Saturday, July 9, 2016

BOOK: Rilla of Ingleside by LM Montgomery

Rilla of Ingleside by LM Montgomery (10 h 19 min)

Rilla of Ingleside is the last in the eight book series that started with Anne of Green Gables. Rilla is the youngest of Anne and Gilbert's children, named after Marilla and this book is her coming of age book. But more than Rilla, this book is a wonderful look at life on the homefront during WW1.

The book opens with Susan, the Blythe's cook and housekeeper, dismissingly reading about some guy killed in Sarejavo, of whom and where she has no interest at all, not when there is gossip about Glen St Mary's to read about. Of course, we know the implications of that assassination, and soon, Susan will be reading the paper and discussing places and battles with a detail not expected of an unworldly, untravelled person like Susan.

Rilla starts the book as a carefree fifteen year old, somewhat spoiled as the youngest of six, and looking forward to a summer of beaus and dances. Instead, her first big dance ends with the announcement of England declaring war with Germany. Four years later, Rilla, after sharing much of her thoughts in her diary with the reader, has grown and faced challenges and grief that no one wishes on any teenager.

Canada as a nation was also like a teenager as the war started. Only 47 years old as a nation, Canada was still very much tied to Britain, and joined the war along with GB, just like all the young boys in Canada signed up to fight the Kaiser. Battles like Passendale and Vimy Ridge were Canadian-led and considered instrumental in Canada becoming a mature, independent nation. Part of our heritage.

The battles are well known and taught in school, but the other side of wars, the homefront and the role of women, never seems to make it into the history books. Montgomery wrote this book in 1921, so everything was still pretty fresh. Mothers and wives, sisters and daughters sent their boys off with a smile and then just waited. Scouring the newspaper, learning to bake without eggs and butter (Susan finds this a particular hardship she cannot handle), getting the crops in, and waiting and hoping.

At one point, it seems every young man Rilla knows is off in France fighting in the trenches. Of course, not all make it back alive. Montgomery, known for her own dark life, doesn't let Anne and Rilla off the hook. Dear Walter, the poet, faces all his fears in bravery. In a nice touch, a poem he writes on the battlefield, 'The Piper', becomes the most famous poem of the war. I always imagine it to be like 'In Flanders' Field' by Robert MacRae.

Dilemmas with pacifism, Germans living in Canada, feathers in envelopes, new technologies (airplanes and cars!) are also discussed. But it's not all big ideas - regular Montgomery tropes are here aplenty. Random inheritances from chance meetings, elopements defying unreasonable parents, babies appearing and being raised by Rilla (no family services to investigate), babies nearly dying from croup, and happy endings.

The most touching part of the book is Jem's dog, Monday, who stays at the train station after seeing his master off to war. Stays there for four years, and always knows immediately what has happened.

I've been re-reading, or rather, listening to the Anne series again. This one I listened on 1.25X and have found listening to be a way to enjoy the books anew. My only complaint is the pronunciation of some Island names. Clow, should be pronounced to rhyme with 'low', not to rhyme with 'cow'. Drives me nuts every time!