Book Review: Emily Climbs, Emily’s Quest

I’ve tried to review the Emily books so many times that it’s just silly.  But the books are so much a part of my existence at this point that it’s hard to be coherent about them.  Emily is the quintessential writer.  Not only are her thoughts, feelings, and work ethic extremely similar to mine, but Montgomery (along with Garrison Keillor) is one of the people I hold up as a paragon of a point I like to make.  Every subject matter is valid, even everyday mundane life.  You don’t have to have experience in darkest Africa or on the fringes of society to write an interesting book.  The proof is in the pudding, and the pudding is rural Prince Edward Island in the early 1900s with plenty of aunts and family traditions to make a girl crazy.

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I have marked Emily Climbs as the book where she is most like me on the 2016 reading challenge.  This is the book in which she’s a struggling, working writer while still trying to balance school duties and family expectation.  Emily is more sensitive than I am.  I’m able to not care about what people think of me in a way she can’t.  But otherwise we are alike.  Right down to the writing habits – spilling out all the chaff of life into a diary before writing into the wee hours of the night.  Sending manuscripts back and getting nothing but rejections for them.  Scribbling sketches of events and trying to capture character in a few paragraphs.  Watching the rejections pile up and pretending you don’t care.  Being so proud of the free subscription or set of contributors copies that come with your first publication instead of pay.  Always hoping for more.

The only thing I don’t find terribly realistic is that Montgomery doesn’t treat Emily’s writing as exactly right.  We never see her editing, only writing more and more things.  It’s such a faithful portrait of a young writer otherwise that I’m sad it’s left out, not because I feel it detracted from the story but because I think it would have helped me earlier to realize that 75% of the writing process isn’t actually writing. It’s editing the stuff you wrote.

I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not.  I cannot see it clearly anymore because I am far too close to it.  But owls in the Land of Uprightness, Egyptian trinkets at the snowshoe dance, Perry’s terrible poetry and Ilse’s bad temper, midnight donuts with Cousin Jimmy, and Aunt Ruth’s terrible snooping all make for something pretty magical.

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I also read Emily’s Quest this time.  I don’t often, because this book is full of heartache.  Emily makes one bad mistake after another, spends all of her time lonely and wanting, and I generally feel morose and horrible at the end of it.  She gets a happy-ish ending, but it is so quick and so slim that it hardly seems worth the pain to get there.  It qualifies quite well as a book that makes me a complete mess for the reading challenge.

This is another one I don’t know if I should recommend.  I love knowing what happens to Emily, but watching her be so proud and so mistaken, to attempt to give things you know she can’t, to watch her succeed professionally and fail so hard personally, is not an easy thing to do.  I love New Moon, but this Emily is not the carefree, hopeful girl of the other books.  This girl has taken it on the chin hard and is struggling to make a life knowing that.  It feels true, but it doesn’t make it better to digest.  The moonlit snows and gray cats in the orchards seem lonely now, and not a comfort.  One by one, all her friends go away.  That, too, I think is a bit like the rest of us.  The promise of college never is quite the same from the other side.

I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to read Emily as a comfort book.  I realized that I’ve memorized large swaths of Emily Climbs this time around, and it didn’t grip me as hard as it usually does because of it.  This read around might be the end of an era.  For quite a while, at least.  We’ll see how I feel in a year or so.

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