Monday, July 17, 2017

My friend Melanie wrote a book, and Penguin Teen Canada published it, I FINALLY got to read it, and now I’m getting to write about it! If you can’t tell, I’m pretty excited about it—and with good reasons. Here are the top four things I love about Melanie Fishbane’s debut, Maud: A Novel:

One: the voice. Melanie knows her subject really, really well. She has read and read and re-read Maud’s fiction and her life-writing, and that knowledge comes through in the voices of both Maud and the narrator. The protagonist’s voice echoes the Maud of her early journals, excited about friends, and boys, and possibilities, passionate about language and feelings and experiences, about conveying her world through her words. The book’s voices capture the tone of both Maud’s creative and life-writing, but Melanie brings a contemporary engagement to what could have been fusty or old-fashioned. She helps Maud speak to a new generation of readers.

Two: the homages. Melanie is a fan not just of Montgomery, but of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and some scenes (driving with Will, poring over her wardrobe) call to mind vividly favorite moments from Wilder’s Little House series. But Melanie also manages subtle homages to Montgomery’s own work. I see echoes of not just Anne, Montgomery’s most famous character, but also to Emily, the character that feels most like me—and most like my conception of Maud herself. These homages are lovely little Easter-eggs in the narrative, but readers new to Montgomery won’t be impeded at all by their lack of context.

Three: the filling in of gaps. This is a novel, and it never pretends to be anything else. Melanie has taken what we do know about young Maud and fleshed it out, created stories, conversations, context, and relationships that delve deeper into her intimate and emotional life than anything left by Maud herself. These creations are eminently respectful of her subject, and both honor Maud’s life and reach out to new readers.

Four: the writing. There is an intimacy between the author and her subject, a closeness of respect, admiration, and, yes, love; yet there’s recognition that her subject is human, flawed and imperfect. As I have mentioned, Melanie brings a contemporary intimacy that sees her character’s flaws—notably her pride and her sensitivity—but makes her accessible, likable, and understandable. She has worked to, in some ways, reflect Montgomery’s own love of nature and delight in description, and to build a true K├╝unstlerroman, a story of an artist’s coming-of-age. I love the voices of the character and the narrator, but behind those, I most of all love the voice of the author.

Okay, five things.

Five: the end matter: I am a big nerd, and I simply adore context. This book includes references, a section titled “More about Maud and Her Times,” a section on “What Happened to Maud’s Friends,” and, of course, a section on “Further Reading.” Each of these pieces offers a wealth of information and excellent resources that will start the budding Montgomery fan or scholar on the road to discovery.

Melanie J. Fishbane was given a daunting (and some might say unfulfillable) task: to bring to life, in fiction, a singularly well-beloved author. She has done it, and, in so-doing she has offered to a new generation of readers her subject’s literary bounty.
If you want to own a copy, as I'm sure you will, try your local bookseller first. To read more about it (or even to purchase a copy if you're really desperate and don't have a local bookseller nearby), click here.