This is the one book I did not get for Christmas that I really wanted, so after the holidays I ordered it on Amazon. My apologies to Oxford Books here in London -- and I shouldn't apologize, because it only reveals a justified guilt for which I cannot find an excuse. There's never a reason not to shop local except for laziness. I was lazy.
At any rate, aside from waxing philosophical on supporting independent booksellers, I read this book in two sittings and enjoyed it very much. Having read Gift of Wings by Mary Rubio (the definitive biography), I knew that this tiny volume could never be comprehensive, and this attitude allowed me to let slide some things that I considered errors in perspective. But Urquhart doesn't try to replicate or even participate in Rubio's style of biography. Instead, she takes a different tack.
The most effective parts of this biography are the moments when Urquhart abandons fact and uses her strengths as a spinner of yarns to almost fictionalize Montgomery's life, taking us inside her emotional being and exploring possibilities of reflection. I'm not sure I agree with Urquhart's assessment of Montgomery as a character, but I appreciate her pursuit of her using the techniques of fiction. This allows us to see her as a whole person, rather than a sordid tale as depicted on CBC's depressing Life and Times episode.
We lie awake with her at three in the morning, feeling in the dark for the comfort of a cat rather than a husband. We lie again with her as she drifts into comatose death. We walk with her up the path to the large iron gates, behind which her best friend lies dead. Urquhart takes us inside these moments in a very effective way, a memorable way. It's a glimpse inside Montgomery's own memory, and rather than seeing her through the shop window as usual, we share her experience. This approach to biography probably comes nearest to overcoming Montgomery's claim that it's all a "screaming farce."
There is something I have trouble with in reading any Montgomery biography. Let me be clear: this does not have to do with a desire for rose-coloured glasses when peering at the life of my favourite author, who writes "cheery" and "romantic" fiction. What bothers me is that Montgomery is always depicted as a woman whose life and choices were arrested, trapped by her society but even more-so by herself. It's a common human narrative, the results of which can be seen on every street corner in the world. But what is supposed to make this story tragic is that Montgomery was brilliant, and didn't allow her brilliance to flourish.
So what is wrong with that that story? It puts her in a tidy box that is labeled "special" on the outside. But this story isn't special. It's the same story that accompanies many lives, brilliant or not -- and if Montgomery did not live out her brilliance, then why all the fascination with her and her work? Clearly, she did something right. If she had become more like Virginia Woolf, maybe we wouldn't like her so much. I don't see any 10 year olds falling in love with Woolf after opening The Lighthouse on Christmas morning. In fact, most people don't read Woolf until someone makes them. Montgomery's work was written within strict boundaries, but today those self imposed rules -- happy endings, marriages -- free her work to be read by a wider audience, studied by academics in a variety of departments (to the occasional frustration of scholars looking for a PhD supervisor) and sold in many different sections of your local independent bookseller's shop.
Where Urquhart's book excels above other works on LMM is in the idea of her as just a person. As a writer herself, Urquhart knows that the best moments in characterization are the minutia, the day to day. She gives us a Montgomery who just lives, who laughs and laughs with her cousins until all hours, and is more reactive than consciously conflicted. This, to me, is a more real portrayal of Montgomery -- and less of a "screaming farce." It's better, not perfect, but better.
It is no less of a crime to view Montgomery as a tragic figure than it is to view her as a carbon copy of Anne, as they did 100 years ago.