Kilmeny of the Orchard

by L.M. Montgomery

[Quick Note: obviously, that link doesn’t go to an author site. Instead it goes to the L.M. Montgomery Institute, which is a fascinating web site for all things related to this interesting woman. Of particular interest to me, considering my love affair with foreign editions of books, is the Online exhibit of Anne covers from around the world. Love it!]

Brief Summary: Eric Marshall has come to Prince Edward Island fresh from graduation to fill in for a sick classmate in the Lindsey school. He has no intention to be a teacher, but has taken the post both to aide his friend and to clear his head from his months at school. Fortunately, he finds his room and board pleasing and the children under his care easy to manage. His is surprised to find on a walk, however, a beautiful girl sitting in an abandoned orchard, playing a violin. He is immediately entranced, but the minute the girl sees him, she runs in terror. Eric is determined to discover who the girl is and why she fled so abruptly.

Kell’s Chatty Review: On the surface, this book is romantic and lovely and delightful. In fact, I’d guess that when this book was first released (1910), it was perceived to be exactly along those lines. However, in this day and age, Kilmeny doesn’t translate terribly well. And I worship the work that L.M. Montgomery provided, so that’s saying something. Where to start? Well, first, a primer:

The Montgomery Style: I adore almost every book I’ve read by Montgomery, but I’m always very hesitant to recommend her to friends. Her style of writing is certainly antiquated and if you can’t stand reading pages upon pages of description (that usually is overly fluffy if I’m being honest) or long blocks of dialog, I don’t think Lucy Maud is the right author for you.

Kilmeny is no Different: Even though the protagonist is a male, Kilmeny is filled with description, gossip and fantastic sayings (more on this later), much like every other Montgomery book. The difference is, Kilmeny comes in at around 140 pages, making it a ridiculously quick read. And the writing and descriptions really are beautiful.

It’s the characters that suck: Ugh.First and foremost, the length of the novella may add to this (I think Montgomery may have substituted character depth for landscape description in the text), but only a few of the secondary characters really had a lot going for them in my eyes. Eric was so single-minded it drove me crazy. Kilmeny continually showed promise of being the strong, willful, typical Montgomery heroine that I love, but she failed to really come around.

And the ending: to prevent spoilers, we’ll say is abrupt. I mean, there’s some dark stuff and it’s like three pages of text long in which the action happened, and the conclusion reached. Insanity.

#1 worst problem, however: was the age of the material. Obviously, you know going in that this book was published almost exactly a century ago. But it’s still jarring to read the way Montgomery describes foreigners and on the whole treats women in this book. As I read in one review, it’s kinda creepy to hear a man refer to his love as “childlike” and “innocent” a million and twelve times.

#2 worst problem (and my biggest issue personally): was the fact most of the story revolved around how Kilmeny looked. Other things as well, but Eric’s way of convincing people of Kilmeny’s awesomeness was to let them see her. The worst part? Kilmeny actually did have a working, active, engaged mind – it just was rarely shown and never in front of people Eric was trying to impress. Maddening. (To be honest, I’ve always had this issue with Montgomery’s writing. So much emphasis on physical beauty. Sigh. Just goes to show how much the world has changed in 100 years!)

But the Sayings: while less in this book (due to the lack of many secondary characters, I think), are still awesome. My personal favorite? “Folks used to say he had a grudge against the sun ’cause it rose and set without his say so.” (pg. 24) And there are BRILLIANT glimpses of late 19th, early 20th century thought, like this gem: “He heard the rooster crow at twelve last night and he’s gone home to see which of his family is dead.” (pg. 26) Also, the poetry is lovely.

Semi-Related Story of Kell’s Past: As mentioned, I heart L.M. Montgomery. Prior to discovering what Amazon.ca was (aka when Kell was much younger), I only really had access to a few of her books. Mainly, the Anne series, the Emily series, and the Avonlea short stories. I adored the quirky sayings and proverbs in them so much, I used to keep a notebook of my favorite ones when I came upon them while reading. (This was back when I still allowed myself to dog-ear a page.) I also tried to call local landmarks awesome names like Anne did, but it failed to catch on. Poor 12 year old me!

What I most wanted to do after reading this book: Somehow make a better story appear. There’s so much depth that wasn’t explored! Kilmeny’s mother was FASCINATING. Sigh.

What Life Lesson I learned from reading this book: No one’s perfect. Not even L.M. Montgomery.

Where this book came from: My very own L.M. Montgomery collection! (Which is, sadly, still missing five of her short-story collections and all her journals. I need to get on that!)(However, The Blythes are Quoted is FINALLY on its way to me! So excited [and terrified, based on the description] to read the final installment of the Anne series!)

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