Thursday, May 19, 2016

Rainbow Valley, by L. M. Montgomery

Staff review by Chris Saliba

In the seventh of the Anne of Green Gables novels, Rainbow Valley takes as its theme the conflict between the needs of the individual and the needs of the community.

The seventh book in the Anne of Green Gables series, Rainbow Valley sees Anne now married to childhood sweetheart Gilbert Blythe, with six children of her own: Jem, Walter, Nan, Di, Shirley and Rilla. When a new minister, John Meredith, arrives in the town of Glen St. Mary, new friendships are forged. John Meredith is recently widowed. He is a dreamy and somewhat self-absorbed minister, spending more time on his studies than with his four children: eldest boy Jerry, the feisty Faith, the sensitive Una and Carl, who is a bit of an amateur natural scientist. The two groups of children, the Merediths and the Blythes, soon form a group and play together in their beloved rainbow valley, a hollow of especial beauty.

All is good and everyone is happy. The group discover Mary Vance, a runaway urchin  whose blunt language and raw life experiences make for some of the funniest passages in the novel. They help Mary get back on her feet and she is eventually adopted by Anne’s friend, Miss Corneilia. While the children are enjoying their adventures, however, there are rumours doing the rounds. The Meredith children are considered by certain moral beacons of the town to be wild and unruly. Racing pigs in the street, wearing no stockings to church - there seems to be no end to their wild, anarchic ways. Soon a campaign is afoot to have Mr Meredith drummed out of his position. It is clear the children need a mother.

John Meredith has expressed a romantic interest in Rosemary West, a woman in her late thirties. There is a problem, however. Rosemary has promised her elder sister Ellen that she won’t marry, a promise made upon the death of their parents. How to resolve this difficult  situation is a task the children take upon themselves.

In so many ways, Rainbow Valley resembles an Anthony Trollope novel, that exemplar of the 19th century fiction. Like all of Trollope’s novels, Montgomery’s story centres around a love story, tackling the complex social difficulties of getting two people together. Much must be overcome to harmonise town propriety with the needs of the individual. Surrounding this kernel is an effortlessly woven social fabric of energetic and inquisitive children, dedicated (and sometimes mean) parents, great friends, idiosyncratic ministers, town busybodies and other eccentric characters. Montgomery always writes with great care and heart about what she knows the best, the local communities she was a part of. As always, her descriptions of her favourite plants, animals and picturesque views inspire by their beauty. 

There’s no need to have read any of the other Anne of Green Gables novels to enjoy Rainbow Valley. This story stands entirely on its own.

Rainbow Valley, by L. M. Montgomery. Published by Virago. ISBN: 9780349009513 RRP: $16.99

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