Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Book Review: The Blue Castle

 

I finished reading The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery over the weekend. This is one of Montgomery's only books with an adult heroine intended for adult readers. It's the story of Valancy Stirling, 29 years old and still living under the control of her domineering mother and prying aunt. She's never been in love and is hopeless that she ever will be. She lives in fear of offending her mother by breaking one of the overbearing rules of "the clan," her small-town extended family full of quirky characters. Valancy's life is so dreary that her only solace is in reading nature books by her favorite author, John Foster, and dreaming of life in her imaginary Blue Castle, where life is perfect, her home is beautiful, and her handsome prince awaits.

The story begins on the morning of Valancy's 29th birthday, as she realizes she probably will never marry and will be trapped in her miserable life forever. Then she visits the doctor and receives the news that she has only one year left to live . . . and begins to shed her fear of everything and everyone to strike off on her own and really live for the first time in her life.

Valancy opens a whole new world for herself when she begins saying what she thinks rather than keeping it inside - and produces some of the funniest dialogue in the book! She develops a questionable friendship with Roarin' Abel, the town drunk, eventually moving in with him to nurse his sick daughter, Cissy, and meeting disreputable Barney Snaith, whom everyone "knows" is at best a thief living under an assumed name, and at worst, a murderer. As the story progresses, Valancy begins to really live, finding love and happiness as her life transforms. Her life is complete when she marries and finds her real-life Blue Castle. The only problem is that she has less than a year to live . .

I wasn't sure what to expect from this book, but I wasn't disappointed with Montgomery's usual writing style. There are quirky people, detailed descriptions of both beautiful and dreary places, and lively dialogue between characters, which are all things I love about her writing. I could picture her stark childhood home as well as her imaginary and real Blue Castle. Each character came to life for me, and just like always, there were some I loved and some I didn't care for so much. The only thing that surprised me was the inclusion of some implied mild profanity, along with a couple of places where the actual word was used. I'd never seen any profanity in Montgomery's books, so I was a bit disappointed, but she was writing for an adult audience so I suppose she felt justified in including it, although it is very mild by today's standards.

I found it a bit irritating that the religious characters in the book were the ones responsible for her miserable upbringing. Valancy only finds happiness after throwing off everything related to her family, defying social norms of the day, and living what they deemed a scandalous life, much like I see happening with the young people of today who have grown up in church (specifically fundamental Baptist churches, as I'm married to a Baptist pastor and have been in the ministry for 18 years). They think they can only find happiness by "breaking all the rules." While I loved that Valancy finally had the courage to live her own life, I do wish the message hadn't been so strongly  against honoring family and church. Of course, her family also did what many families do when children rebel, and counted her as dead, refusing to speak to her when they saw her in town. So the blame goes both ways, as it does in real life. The fact that Valancy's "rebellion" was simply choosing to have her own opinions and make her own decisions at 29 years old makes her family's extreme reaction silly.

I did enjoy the story very much, finding lots of humor in the crazy family members despite their ridiculous belief that anyone who dares to disagree with them is wicked. I laughed out loud several times over Valancy's conversations with her family members, who thought she had surely lost her mind because nobody ever said what they were truly thinking! I loved watching Valancy change from a fearful child of 29 to a peaceful, confident woman by the end of the book. The ending is satisfyingly romantic and promises she will indeed live happily ever after (I love happy endings!). She is also loosely reconciled to her family, although it's through selfishness on their part. I would recommend this book as clean, fun entertainment for adults with the above reservations. I'll be linking this post with the Reading To Know Book Club January selection.

Disclosure: This entry contains affiliate links.

8 comments:

  1. The Blue Castle was one of the first LM Montgomery books I read. If I remember right it was in a box of old books my parents got at an auction. They kept the wooden box at our summer cottage and I dipped into the books on sultry summer afternoons when it was too hot to do anything else. The other LM Montgomery book was Anne of Windy Poplars in a funny little Penguin paperback version. I enjoyed both books very much and since then, have found it so interesting that Montgomery wrote this book with an Ontario setting of woods and lakes rather than the seacoast. To me The Blue Castle seems a little more fanciful and unlikely than her others, but as you said, it's very well written -- and it's still one of my favorites. Thanks for sharing this review!

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    1. I agree that it seems unlikely - especially with all the hidden identity going on with Barney Snaith, and I really have a hard time believing that anyone would be so submissive that they'd still be kept under a mother's thumb quite so heavily at 29! But I love "transformation" stories, where the ugly girl undergoes such a change that she becomes beautiful, so I enjoyed the story immensely.

      My first Montgomery book was Anne of Green Gables, given to me by my grandma. I loved it as a child and still do. Valancy was quite different than Anne! Also, I didn't notice the location change quite so much because Diana and Anne were always wandering in the woods, which is a large part of The Blue Castle too. And there was the lake! I'd love to see that lake!

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Mrs. T!

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  2. This is a book that I've wanted to read. My library doesn't have it, so I'll have to purchase it. Thanks for the review!

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    1. I think you'll enjoy it, Tammy! There will be more reviews at the link to the book club at the end of the month.

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  3. I'll come back and read this after I finish the book. :-) I'm a little over halfway through now.

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  4. Just got done yesterday! I think - or maybe Tuesday. Anyway, I agree with all your points. The first part seemed so depressing, but that's probably because LMM was so good at drawing those characters and Valancy's situation. Then I thought Valancy went overboard to the point of being rude at times, but I liked that things came back to an even keel at the end.

    I must have missed the actual profanity - I did see a few instances when only the first and last letters of the word were there, with lines in-between for the missing letters.

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    1. I was very happy with the ending. I checked my book from the library, and in the introduction to my copy, it was mentioned that the critics of the book didn't like that it wrapped up to be a happily-ever-after ending - but that's the kind I like!

      The "implied" profanity were the words that you mentioned with just the first and last letter of the word. The actual words were closer to the end, and as I said, were very mild in today's society. However, I have lots of friends who might be offended by that, so I thought it best to mention them so they would know there was some mild profanity if they chose to read the book. Overall, I enjoyed the story and felt it was worth the entertainment if a person just wanted something light and fun to read.

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  5. Although I didn't mention it in my review, I too found Valancy's freedom in casting off her family and her religious upbringing to be troubling. I can understand that she found freedom in casting off her family, seeing that they are a caricature of narrowness (I can't believe the things they thought they could control in a 29 year old daughter and niece!) But the idea that throwing off religion is freeing is...complicated. It is true that one can be enslaved by religion. If religion is a group of rules without salvation by grace, it's awful. But the "liberty" of following one's own desires is also enslaving--a point that Montgomery never brings up. Unfortunately, Montgomery never experienced or wrote of true freedom--the true freedom that comes from being conformed to the image of the One by whom one is freely justified.

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Thanks for taking a minute to read my ramblings and leave a comment! I appreciate it!

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