12 Jan 2015

A Series A Month: Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery

I read Emily Climbs as a part of Danielle's A Series a Month Challenge.

First Published: 1925
Page Count: 416 pages
Format: Hardcover | Purchased

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Like Emily of New Moon, it is so hard for me to articulate what I want to say about this book. With the books in the Anne of Green Gables series, it is so easy for me to say what I thought about them and be done with my review. I think a lot of this stems from Emily Starr's story being so much darker than Anne Shirley's (I'm sorry, it's really hard for me not to talk about L.M. Montgomery's most infamous character).Emily Climbs is darker than Emily of New Moon. It's also everything I wanted Emily of New Moon to be. The novel mostly follows Emily's years at high school in the neighbouring town of Shrewsbury. During this time she stays with her Aunt Ruth - who is far closer in character to Marilla Cuthbert than Aunt Elizabeth ever was - and matures as a writer.

Emily is thrilled when Aunt Elizabeth agrees to send her to high school - the Murray women traditionally do not have to work for their living, therefore she sees further educating Emily as an unnecessary expense - on the condition that she stops writing fiction, and only sticks to the facts. Instead of boarding with Ilse, Aunt Ruth takes Emily in, viewing it has her 'duty.' Admittedly, Aunt Ruth's house is a very unsympathetic environment. She views Emily as sly and sees deviousness in the most innocent of actions. The Murray pride also comes to be a blessing and a curse for Emily, causing friction in her friendship with Ilse.

I found Emily to be even more relatable than I did in the first novel. She reminds me a lot of me as a teenager - she's introverted, but not shy, she's passionate about life, she longs for something more than the life that she's been given. Sometimes she seems like a person of extremes - she's full of righteous anger one moment, and then deflating in shame the next. She's so passionate and ambitious and emotional that I can't help but love her.

I've never been a huge fan of stories that switch between first and third person narrative (probably a contributing factor to Anne of Windy Willows being my least favourite book in the series), and this book switches between first person accounts in Emily's diary and third person narration. It seems to work for the story, though. It's lovely seeing Emily mature as both a writer - her gradually using italics less frequently, for example - and a person. In terms of Emily's writing - in keeping with the title - the book mostly concerns her climb of her own 'Alpine Path,' with more people recognising Emily's talents - first her teachers, then her family and the wider public, and finally editors, publishers and other writers. There's a lovely little friendship between Emily and Miss Royal, which I enjoyed.

My least favourite character in the series makes a return! Some quotes that demonstrate why his behaviour horrifies me include:

'"But let him keep his pencil and brush off my property." Dean laughed as he said it. But I held my head high. I am not anybody's 'property,' not even in fun. And I never will be.' - p. 35

'"By the way, how are you getting on with the love-making parts of your stories?"
"You forget - I can't write stories just now. When I can - well, you know how long you promised you would teach me how to make love artistically." I said it in a teasing way, just for a joke. But Dean seemed suddenly to become very much in earnest.
"Are you reading for the teaching?" he said, bending forward. For one crazy moment I really thought he was going to kiss me.' - p.252

I won't go on, but my private notes and GR status updates are mostly just me being horrified by Dean's behaviour. When we were first introduced to him in Emily of New Moon it is mentioned that he was a school friend of Mr Starr, so he is literally old enough to her father. The fact that he is in love with a teenage girl and views her as his property makes me sick to my stomach. Needless to say, Dean Priest's appearances were the low point of this book for me.

I'm enjoying the Emily series more than I would've expected! Sometimes I wonder if I would enjoy the Anne books as much if I'd read them for the first time as an adult, rather than reading them with a whole lot of childhood nostalgia. 

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