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20th January
2010
written by Steph
My first perfect read of 2010!

My first perfect read of the year!

Tony and I have been married for just over six months now, and I love my husband dearly.  But last week while reading The Blue Castle, I fell in love again.  With a book that starts like this, you can pretty much surmise that it was essentially love at first sight:
“If it had not rained on a certain May morning Valancy Stirling’s whole life would have been entirely different.  She would have gone, with the rest of her clan, to Aunt Wellington’s engagement picnic and Dr. Trent would have gone to Montreal.  But it did rain and you shall hear what happened to her because of it.”
The Blue Castle is the story of Valancy Stirling, who at 29, is an old maid.  She lives with her overbearing mother and sniveling cousin and has a dull and oppressed existence.  Valancy is kept under thumb, constantly berated, and is perpetually holding her tongue.  She is only able to find solace in two things: the nature books of the reclusive author, John Foster, and the blue castle of her imagination, a place where her wildest dreams come true and romance is no longer an impossibility.  Valancy’s life changes the day she sneaks out to see a doctor (without first getting her family’s approval) and is diagnosed with a severe and untreatable heart condition that will likely kill her before the year is out.  This revelation spurs Valancy to overhaul her life and break out of her shell; she may not have done much with the first 29 years of her life, but Valancy soon learns that it’s never too late to learn how to live, and when she starts to cozy up to town recluse and possible bad-boy, Barney Snaith, she finds it may not even be too late for love! Such a cheesy synopsis, I know, but this novel pretty much had everything I could ever hope for in a book.  I was familiar with L.M. Montgomery because Anne of Green Gables is kind of required reading if you spend your girlhood in Canada (and of course I loved Anne-with-an-E).  That said, despite being previously swept away by Montgomery once in my life, I was still completely unprepared for it to happen again. The Blue Castle is one of her few novels that was meant for an adult audience, and I must say I do think that Montgomery does showcase different authorial skills here than she does with her Anne books (and the other books she wrote directed at a younger set).  For me the most striking thing was the depth of the humor here.  I found the novel terribly funny, but in that rather wry, sardonic way. In fact, I remarked to Tony that reading this book was probably as close as I’m ever likely to get to reading a lost Jane Austen novel.  It wasn’t a perfect match, of course, as Montgomery does have her own style, but there was something Austen-esque about the humor and the tone. I don’t really know what else I can say except that I loved this book.  Truth be told, I found it exhilarating!  Some of the twists were a bit predictable, but that hardly mattered to me, so caught up was I in Valancy’s world.  I completely gave myself over to her transformation, and reveled in the woman she becomes (or perhaps as secretly always been) as the novel progresses. There was so much vitality and spirit bubbling throughout the novel, and although Valancy was no Anne Shirley, it is easy to see that Montgomery had a fondness for lively heroines who weren’t afraid to dream. The Blue Castle somehow manages to be a book that contains bitterness and anger, but in this amazingly gentle and graceful way, perhaps because readers will feel that Valancy has every right to get her snark on.  We all know I love a story of grand romance, but some of my favorite parts of this book were those involving the Stirling family gatherings.  So meddlesome!  So oblivious!  So similar to my own family! I think it would be easy to dismiss this book as trifling or light, but it was really such a pleasure to read.   Reading it I felt a bit like I did when I first read I Capture The Castle, and it just felt like a perfect, slim little novel. Let me reiterate: I loved it.  It buoyed my spirits, was lovely in its prose, and has become a new favorite.  Highly recommended to pretty much anyone who loves wonderful books, but I think those who love Persephone books will especially cherish this one.  It’s almost a shock it isn’t a Persephone since it’s been out of print for so long!  Do what you can (it’s readily available in Canada, which is why it went on my Xmas list this year) and get yourself a copy.  As a Canadian, I’m a bit ashamed that this book only entered my awareness a few months ago when I read a review of it over at Vintage Reads, but if there’s one thing I learned from Valancy, it’s to have no regrets.  Better to have read this one late than never (but don’t make the same mistake I did and do go and read it sooner rather than later!). Rating: 5 out of 5

26 Comments

  1. 01/20/2010

    How sad that I have never explored any of her works beyond Anne of Green Gables! Thank you for bringing this one to my attention, I’m not sure I would have discovered it otherwise!

  2. 01/20/2010

    Oh gosh, I meant to look up her adult books after I totally fell in love with Anne-with-an-E (and watched 7 hours worth of videos!) but it slipped my mind. I’m so glad you reminded (everyone) with this post. I’m off to check for The Blue Castle!

  3. 01/20/2010

    I also saw this first at Vintage Reads and was thinking if I’d like it. I haven’t read LM Montgomery before! Would you say it’s in the family of I Capture the Castle? 😀

  4. 01/20/2010

    @ Kathleen: I will always love the Anne books with all my heart, but in some ways I feel I may have loved this more! It’s nice to know that I enjoyed Montgomery first as a girl and now as a woman; she’s clearly an author one can enjoy throughout one’s entire life!
     
    @ rhapsody: For me Anne of Green Gables was the book of Montgomery’s that captured my heart (though I did also like Anne of Windy Poplars), but this is pretty much on par with that book if not better. And I also love the videos (though I have them on DVD), but I refuse to watch the third movie in the trilogy since Kevin Sullivan decided to depart from the canon and make up his own story and that doesn’t hold with me!
     
    @ Claire: It’s VERY I Capture the Castle in nature. I know you will love it, so do read it! It’s not right that you’ve gone so long without some Montgomery in your life. Either this or Anne – both are lovely and wonderful.

  5. Lu
    01/20/2010

    And to the top of the TBR it goes!!!

  6. Eva
    01/21/2010

    I LURVE Anne, but I’ve never read any of Montgomery’s other books. So I totally want to read this now!

  7. 01/21/2010

    Next the Emily books, this is my favourite of Montgomery’s. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it as I feel like it’s an old, always comforting friend.

  8. 01/21/2010

    What a beautiful review! I actually downloaded an e-book version of this the other day (because a friend from Canada urged me to read it) and now I’m even more excited to get to it!

  9. I haven’t read any of Montgomery’s books and also saw this mentioned a while ago. I’m really pleased that you enjoyed it and will keep an eye out for it.

  10. 01/21/2010

    @ Lu: I know you loved kicking off 2010 with Anne of Green Gables, so I do hope you are able to get a copy of this one. I think you’ll really adore it!
     
    @ Eva: I am by no means a Montgomery completist (I didn’t love all of the Anne books that I read, and never loved any of her other stuff that I tried as much), but this one was amazing. I can’t imagine you not loving this one!
     
    @ Sarah: I never really got into the Emily books when I was younger, but I think this book has reminded me that I probably need to make more time on a regular basis for Montgomery. A few years ago I re-read Anne of Green Gables and it helped me through a rough time, so: note to self – read more Montgomery!
     
    @ Nymeth: I’m glad you enjoyed this review, Nymeth. I felt a bit scattered in writing it, because sometimes when you love a book it’s hard to articulate why. I’m happy to hear this may prompt you to get to this one sooner! It’s such a gem!
     
    @ Jackie: Make no mistake, this is a quiet novel, but it’s certainly not boring and there is plenty of plot to keep readers interested. I think I personally enjoyed the first half of the book the most which focuses strongly on Valancy’s transformation, but it’s a strong novel the entire way through.

  11. 01/21/2010

    I’ve only read Anne. This sounds so lovely too!

  12. 01/21/2010

    Another for my TBR list!! Thanks guys 🙂

  13. 01/21/2010

    @ Rebecca: I think this is absolutely the kind of book you would love. It’s gentle yet spirited and the writing is great!
     
    @ diane: It’s the least we can do, right? 😉
     
    @ Priscilla: It’s definitely got an I Capture the Castle vibe – the sense of whimsy and fantasy, the romance… though I would say that ICtC had more unexpected twists for me. But I love both books and think anyone who’s a fan of one would likely greatly enjoy the other!

  14. 01/21/2010

    Ah, I was thinking about I Capture the Castle as I read your post, and I see that Claire already asked about how they compare. I am definitely reading this one in 2010! 🙂

  15. 01/21/2010

    Wonderful! I’m like many others and have only read Anne and I’m glad there is more Montgomery to read. And those comparisons with Austen — wow!

  16. 01/22/2010

    I have this book on my shelf, but like it’s neighbors, it’s not been read yet. I have heard such wonderful things about it and I honestly don’t know why I haven’t picked it up. I am go glad to hear that when I do read it it will probably blow me away and I am glad that you loved it so much. Great review, your excitement about it is contagious!

  17. 01/22/2010

    I could have sworn that I’d read every book that L.M. Montgomery wrote, young adult or otherwise. It’s been so long, though, that the only thing that’s vaguely familiar is the title. I’ve put this book on my wishlist because I think it’s been long enough that I won’t remember anything! And you’re glowing review is another reason, of course. 🙂

  18. 01/22/2010

    I hadn’t even heard of this one! How fun to know there are more L.M. Montgomery books to explore.

  19. 01/23/2010

    I have to go and dip deep for this one. I am sure it will be around. just have to browse and browse.

  20. 01/23/2010

    @ Dorothy: Believe you me, I don’t lightly compare authors to Austen (at least not favorably), so I think it’s really saying something here!
     
    @ zibilee: How wonderful that you already have a copy! I hope you get to read it soon, because it’s too good to just languish on the shelf!
     
    @ trish: You know, this one isn’t groundbreaking in the sense that even if you haven’t read it before, you will probably be able to anticipate certain events. But it’s such an upbeat, affirming story that it really doesn’t matter!
     
    @ softdrink: I love when you discover a book by a beloved author and have it be just as good as you would have hoped! This is one such case!
     
    @ Mystica: Perhaps the search will make it all the more worthwhile. This is definitely one worth the effort it might take to find!

  21. 01/24/2010

    I have never read Anne of Green gables ( I mentioned in a recent post on books that the whole world has read except moi). Consider that it’s literature, since you read and review it, and that it is humorous, I am game for it. A trifling humor could either spoil a book or elevate it, depending on how it taps into the context. I literally want to go out and look for this boo, because I always warm to a book of love. 🙂

  22. 01/24/2010

    Yay! Glad you loved it. I wish L M Montgomery had written more for adults.

  23. 01/25/2010

    @ Matt: Not that I think good fiction can’t appeal equally to men and to women, but I think the fact that you’re a man, makes it more forgivable that you’ve never read Anne of Green Gables. I mean, you should still absolutely read it, but I can understand how you might not have gotten to it yet. This is definitely more mature, very romantic, and the humor is really well done – definitely doesn’t detract, but helps emphasize Valancy’s metamorphosis. It’s a sweet, gentle love story.
     
    @ Nicola: Thanks so much for bringing this my attention. Despite having read some of Montgomery’s stuff when younger, I probably never would have thought to revisit her without you! Now I too wish she had written more for adults!

  24. Meg
    01/26/2010

    I’m slightly embarrassed to say I’ve never read anything by L.M. Montgomery — and never heard of this novel! But I’ll definitely be remedying that soon. Thanks for an outstanding review — I Capture The Castle just arrived at my doorstep the other day, and I’ll be getting this one, too!

  25. 01/27/2010

    @ Meg: Well, I don’t think this is one of Montgomery’s better known novels (even if it should be!), especially since it has been (or was) out of print for quite a while. So don’t feel bad about just discovering it now! I think that if you love I Capture the Castle (and really, how could you not?), then you will love this one too; they’re very similar in style and tone, I think.

  26. […] Rachel had me coveting a copy when she waxed lyrical about it last last year, swiftly followed by Steph and then Ana; when three of my favourite blogging acquaintances all endorse a book so […]

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