Following on my review of Emily of New Moon, I’m looking at the next book in the trilogy today, continuing the story of Emily Byrd Starr and her dreams of being an author.
Emily Climbs by L. M. Montgomery gives us Emily’s high school years–even though she begins the book age 13, she felt about 16 to me throughout. This volume focuses mostly on her writing and her family, as she starts to sell a few stories and poems, and spars with various relatives who cannot understand the things that Emily girl gets up to. There are also a few ups and downs with best friend Ilse, who continues her wild flouting of propriety.
Male friends Teddy and Perry fade out for large sections of the book, which is a bit of a shame, as their scenes are some of the most compelling. First, there’s a scene when Emily becomes accidentally locked in the empty church with “Mad Mr. Morrison” and Teddy comes to the rescue. Later, all four friends take refuge in an abandoned house to escape a snowstorm, where Emily and Teddy share a suddenly soul-revealing glance; under the inspiration of new love, Emily spends the night dreaming out her great novel. And Perry contributes one of the funniest scenes, narrating a disastrous dinner party he attended.
As you can probably already tell, we’ve left childhood, for the most part, behind by this second book, and ventured with Emily into more adult territory. The scene with Mad Mr. Morrison is particularly striking for a number of reasons. As I mentioned in my review of the first book, there’s a darker strain in Emily, and never more so than here. Morrison is a generally harmless lunatic, endlessly seeking his lost love who died many years before. He mistakes Emily for his lost bride, and the scene when he searches through the darkened church for her is truly terrifying. Even though Montgomery mentions that when he finds girls he likes to stroke their hair (in other words–basically harmless), I don’t quite believe that, as the entire tone is that she’s in genuine danger.
Of course he doesn’t catch her, of course she escapes–it’s Montgomery, after all, and if she ever went to the really dark places I wouldn’t enjoy her so much. But the Emily books go just far enough to make me feel like they’re set in a real world, where there are real problems–and I like that. There’s also a beautiful conclusion to the scene, telling the reader how Morrison sees himself, the hero seeking his beloved, which brings him away from being a villain and turns him into a truly tragic figure shaped by lost love.
Emily also uses her second sight twice in this book, in more pronounced ways than she did in the first. I always found these incidents a little baffling because the book is clearly not a fantasy, yet it has these moments…which somehow don’t read as though they’re meant to be fantasy. Then I read Montgomery’s journal and found out she believed in prophetic dreams and, I would guess, other psychic phenomena (to a point!)
At the end of the book, we see Emily at a crossroads, making a decision about where her life will go next. I understand her ultimate choice…but in a way I wish she had chosen otherwise, as I would have loved to see where her life would go down that path. I also wonder if Emily’s decision is, to a certain extent, Montgomery’s efforts to satisfy herself about her path through life, when she never really had the opportunity to go the opposite direction. I love reading Montgomery’s books from the perspective of knowing the contents of her journals too!
I was originally planning a combined review for both of the remaining books in the trilogy…but then I had more to say than I expected! So come back next week for a review of Book Three, Emily’s Quest…
Buy it here: Emily Climbs