Monday, June 20, 2011

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

In the midst of some tedious and torturous novels, The Blue Castle was the perfect bit of relief. Last weekend Danielle and I watched Anne of Green Gables and I was reminded of the wonderful L.M. Montgomery. I found a used LMM book online that looked like the perfect weekend antidote to the evil Thomas Wolfe. This one jumped out at me because the description included a "good-girl" heroine and her love interest: a mysterious neighbor who is reputed to be a bank robber, an embezzler, even a murderer (yes, yes, very predictable of me, I know. I do love the bad boys).

Valancy Stirling is the good-girl heroine, a spinster from Ontario, Canada. She has lived, for her 29 years, under the oppression of her mean-spirited and image-conscious mother and aunts and cousins and uncles who mock her spinsterhood and repress her confidence and spirit. She is a homely invalid, whose only moments of happiness are when she retreats into her vibrant imagination to her "Blue Castle"-- a place inhabited by a handsome prince, as many cats as she wants and where she can sneeze without being ladylike and can read novels at any time of the day.

Valancy's gloomy monotonous life is doomed to go on forever in the same monotonous gloomy way. But! She is diagnosed with a fatal heart condition and given a year to live. Instead of being doomed by the death sentence, it is the impetus that makes her change her life. She sheds the shackles of fear and insecurity and tradition that have weighed so heavily on her and truly, for the first time, begins to LIVE. She's not depressed by her lack of a future, instead she looks to the waste and boredom of her past as the true tragedy... she decides to live her life for the present. This story called to my mind the line: "Dying seems less sad than having lived too little," from Gloria Steinem's short story, "Ruth's Song Because She Could Not Sing It." (Gloria Steinem is, incidentally, the stepmother of the hunky Christian Bale.)

So this is the story of Valancy finding herself... and her blissful Blue Castle in reality. It's captivating to watch her transformation from a meek invalid into a vibrant girl with a lot of sass. I love a girl with sass. In a wonderfully funny dinner scene with her ogre-ish family, Valancy finally verbalizes all the thoughts that she has previously politely filtered. (This has always been a personal fantasy of mine... to be able to say what you think, filter-free!)

This was a feel-good story that I knew would be tied up nicely with a happy-ever-after ending. But still, Lucy Maud managed to surprise me, even though some aspects of the novel are predictable. And it's always fun to return to a beloved author from your childhood to find that she's still as delightful as you remembered.
Grade: A-
"Isn't it better to have your heart broken than to have it wither up?" queried Valancy. "Before it could be broken it must have felt something splendid. That would be worth the pain."