A prequel to a beloved classic, from Canadian children’s-book author Wilson (stories: The Leaving, 1992, etc.).
Anne Shirley, L.M. Montgomery’s plucky redheaded heroine, is 11 years old when she first arrives at Green Gables. With this novel, Wilson imagines Anne’s origins. The child of two preternaturally happy and loving parents, Anne is a lucky and much-adored baby. But her luck runs out at the tender age of three months, when both her parents die in an epidemic. Anne becomes the ward of the Thomas family, where existence is defined by poverty, hardship and violence. Any positive development in Anne’s life is generally countered by a swift reversal, and the only happiness she knows is the kind she’s able to create for herself. Wilson writes with a plain, calm style, never descending into melodrama. Ultimately, her coolness drains the narrative of pathos. Anne experiences horrible neglect and abuse, but she remains essentially untouched by it. The Anne portrayed here is not believable, even a little off-putting. She’s walking when she’s just a few months old; she’s speaking in elaborate metaphors as a toddler; and, at 11, she has both the awareness to understand that she has been robbed of a proper childhood and the self-possession to compose an eloquent and impassioned soliloquy on the topic. Generations of readers familiar with Anne’s life after she arrives at Avonlea may have wondered how a little orphan girl could be so precocious and optimistic. Wilson’s prequel suggests that it may have been better to leave that question unanswered.
This drab, unappealing story probably won’t please Anne’s many admirers, nor will it inspire a new audience for Anne of Green Gables.