Friday, 26 December 2014

Jane of Lantern Hill - L M Montgomery

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So glad to have come across this L M Montgomery - the last novel she wrote from what I've found.  If you loved Anne of Green Gables, or any of her others, this one is worth seeking out and reading.  This comes in a new paperback edition from Virago Modern Classics (number 620) with just the most beautiful cover by Daniela Jaglenka Tetrazzini.  I saw a review on Amazon which said "I first read this when I was seven....".  If I had read this when I was seven, it would not have made the impression on me that it has now, for woven into this children's story are things that seem common to us now, in a world where everyone knows everyone's business via social media.  But when it was written, I think it might have seemed extraordinary to any young reader that it brings in the jealousy that adults feel when things do not go their way; the way children have to cope when adults manipulate things to suit themselves; that PTS (post traumatic stress) is mentioned, but of course not by name as it wasn't invented back in the 1930s.

Jane is Jane Victoria.  Two names.  Jane she likes, but her grandmother in whose house she lives does not, and refers to her always as Victoria. Jane lives in number 60 Gay Street, off Bloor Street in Toronto.  Remind yourself that gay meant something else altogether then - but it's not a gay house:  in fact, there seems no fun and joy in the house she shares with her mother, grandmother and aunt.  It's a sombre, bitter place and her grandmother can find what we'd now call a put-down in every remark she makes to Jane.  Not only that, but with a dead father and a mother who has a busy social life, it is a place where laughter is never encouraged, and neither is cleverness, nor the lower orders. And then, one early summer, a letter arrives.  Jane's father is not only alive, but requests that she spend the summer with him on Prince Edward Island.  It has to be done, and Jane sets out with dread on the long train journey from Toronto to stay with a man she does not know, that her mother is still married to and once loved, and that her grandmother detests with her entire being.  What she finds on the Island is an eye-opener and I will stop right there, for this is a book that needs reading, with few clues beforehand.  It's one of those cosy up on the sofa in front of the fire with no interuptions kind of books - and even at my age I loved it.

I found out whilst researching this book that only in 2008 did the heirs of L M Montgomery release the fact that Montgomery had committed suicide in the early 1940s, and that she had suffered from depression for a lot of her life.  Her husband, a church minister, also had mental health problems.  The family had always known, but it was brought into the public domain because they decided it was time to talk about mental health.  Good for them.  It's so often the silent illness (i.e. no-one wants to talk about it), and it shouldn't be.  You see, if you break your arm, everyone can see the plaster.  But if your head is not in the right place, often the remark made is "pull yourself together".  Do think kindly of Montgomery whilst reading (or re-reading her books).  She didn't do too badly with her writing at all!