Monday, October 22, 2012

Anne's House of Dreams, by L. M. Montgomery

 Staff Review by Chris Saliba

Book five in the Anne of Green Gables series sees Anne Shirley married at last to Gilbert Blythe and mistress of her own ‘house of dreams’. Surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty at Four Winds Harbor, Anne learns of the suffering of others and must confront personal tragedy herself. Anne’s House of Dreams is a bitter-sweet novel, infused with much natural beauty and personal suffering.
In all, there are eight novels that form the Anne of Green Gables series, taking Anne Shirley right up to old age. Since reading the first novel, Anne of Green Gables, several years ago, I’ve been steadily reading my way through the others.

Anne’s House of Dreams makes for book five, and shows Anne embarking on married life with Gilbert Blythe who is now working as a doctor. The couple take a small house at Four Winds Harbor, a secluded  and beautifully moody area that opens out onto the sea. Anne calls the house her 'house of dreams’. Soon enough Anne gets to meet her new neighbours. There’s Captain Jim with his great seafaring tales, the eccentric and comically man-hating Cornelia Bryant, and the mysterious Leslie Moore, who is hiding a life of great suffering.

While the title of the book may make its contents seem idyllic, there’s a melancholic, bitter-sweet mood that permeates Anne’s House of Dreams. The more Leslie Moore’s background is revealed, the darker her life seems to be. There’s no less than two suicides described in the book, which gives an idea of the dark shadows that haunt the book’s pristine natural landscape. Things get worse halfway through the novel when a happily expected baby is born in the morning only to die the same day. Montgomery describes the joy of giving birth followed by the grief of loss (she in real life lost her baby son). The second half of Anne’s House of Dreams has a faintly elegiac tone as it grapples with the suffocating pain of losing a child.

Anne’s House of Dreams does have a happy ending. Despite life’s hardships and miseries, good things do happen. Yet the tender sadness that permeates the book shows that such happiness is often fragile and sometimes fleeting. If Anne Shirley wasn’t so disciplined and philosophical, she’d surely be suffering chronic depression by this fifth book.

Even though Anne of Green Gables is the undisputed jewel of the series, this sad and melancholic fifth installment is perhaps my favourite so far.

Anne's House of Dreams, by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Published by Virago. ISBN:  9780349009452 RRP: $16.99