I was prompted to pick up "Rilla" again (after many years) when I stumbled onto a "Rilla of Ingleside" Readathon group on Facebook, which I mentioned in an earlier blog post. They started with Chapter 1 on March 30th & are currently on Chapter 12 (of 35), so if you're a fan of "Rilla," it's not too late to catch up & enjoy the rest of the discussion to come!
Rilla, the youngest daughter of Anne & Gilbert, turns 15 years old in the summer of 1914, and is looking forward to filling her teenaged years with parties and beaux. But her first grown-up party that summer -- where she attracts the interest of childhood friend Kenneth Ford -- ends abruptly with news that Britain (and thus Canada) has declared war on Germany. Over the next five years, Rilla watches as her three brothers, childhood playmates and new sweetheart enlist and head off to the battlefields of Europe -- some never to return. She organizes the local Junior Red Cross, adopts a war baby (!), plans a last-minute war wedding for a friend and, in the pages of her diary, draws a vivid picture of life on the Canadian home front.
As I said about this book back in 2010:
It's been noted that this is the only contemporary novel about the First World War written by a Canadian woman, from the perspective of a Canadian woman and "the home front." I think I learned more about the war from this book than any history text. I've often thought it would make a fabulous movie or TV mini-series. I think my favourite character is Susan Baker, the housekeeper, who provides some of the most memorable (I think) images in the book -- sticking her knitting needle through a map of Europe in exasperation with the Kaiser, refusing to submit to "Borden's time" (the introduction of daylight savings time) vs "God's time," the image of her running up the flag & saluting it, saying, "You are worth it," when the Armistice is finally announced.(I got a couple of the details wrong here... for example, Susan runs up the flag after a critical victory late in the war, not at the very end. But she's still one of my favourite things about this book.)(Another would be the storyline of the faithful Dog Monday, which never fails to make me cry.)
As a character study, as a continuation/climax of the previous "Anne" books, as a contemporary story of the war years, this is a wonderful book. And, as some on the Facebook group have noted, it's the perfect "comfort" read right now, as we face our own uncertain time in history (one sure to wind up in the history books) with no clear resolution or end date yet in sight.
4.5 stars on Goodreads, rounded up to 5.
Caveat #1: Some modern readers might find the fervent nationalism & patriotism depicted in this book a little jarring or uncomfortable. (See some of the comments on Goodreads!) I think we need to remember that the book is very much a reflection of the time it depicts and the time it was written in (just a few years after the war ended). There's already been some discussion on this point in the Facebook readathon group: as some have noted, the war was supposed to be "the war to end all wars" and at that time, Montgomery and others felt the sacrifices made by their sons, brothers, fathers, husbands and neighbours were the price that had to be paid to create a better world for the children of the future. Sadly, of course, the peace was not a lasting one. The advent of the Second World War plunged Montgomery into despair; her 1942 death has been revealed to be a possible suicide, and no doubt the prospect of her own sons going off to fight contributed to her deteriorating mental state.
Caveat #2: If you're interested in reading "Rilla," make sure you are reading an unabridged version based on the original 1920 text. (The one I read, pictured above, is a new/recent, unabridged, fully restored version of the book, edited by Benjamin Lefebvre & Andrea Mackenzie, who also happen to be leading the Facebook group readathon of the book right now. I've learned from them that there are a lot of versions floating around out there, and many of them produced since the late 1970s have been edited/trimmed, presumably to cater to more modern tastes and shorter attention spans. Some of these versions have removed or drastically cut many of Susan's speeches, which are some of the funniest parts of the book, IMHO. Buyer beware!
This was Book #13 read to date in 2020 (Book #2 finished in April). I'm currently at 43% of my 2020 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 30 books, and am (for the moment, anyway...!) 4 books ahead of schedule to meet my goal. :)