Anne of Manhattan
Anne of Green Gables reimagined in the twenty-first century? Sign me up! I have read and reread L.M. Montgomery’s books several times over, and I was very curious to see how Anne of Manhattan would stand up. I follow the author on Twitter and her descriptions of the book caught my eye, as did the promise of more romance between Anne and Gilbert.
Brina Starler does a lot of things that work in this novel. Rather than trying to recreate an idyllic Prince Edward Island life, she moves her characters to New York. Anne and Gilbert are trying to find their way in NYC, and Avonlea is now a rural community on Long Island. I was initially wary, but it worked. In the twenty-first century, Anne’s deep love of Avonlea mirrored her early twentieth-century counterpart, and the modern place sparked to life very well.
I also enjoyed the romance between Anne and Gilbert. Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe are childhood enemies turned lovers, and Ms. Starler captures the conflicting emotions of that dynamic so well. The leads’ shared history both draws them together and comes between them. It’s obvious (to the reader, at least) that these two have been attracted to one another for quite some time. However, it’s equally apparent that the ways in which they challenge one another also makes them come into conflict at times. Anne, in particular, is so accustomed to seeing Gilbert as a rival that she has a hard time acknowledging the attraction. And while the original Gilbert was charming, modern-day Gilbert is dreamily romantic.
One of the main strengths of the novel is that the author explores the inner lives of the characters in a way that the originals did not. For instance, in Anne of Green Gables, readers learn that Anne is an orphan and her past is treated in a rather matter-of-fact fashion. In Anne of Manhattan, we see a little more of how her childhood and past losses shaped Anne Shirley and how much her life with Marilla and Matthew means to her.
In addition, the secondary characters get fleshed out more in this book. Diana Barry has a life beyond simply being Anne Shirley’s kindred spirit, and the strong, self-reliant Marilla has her own life (complete with her dear friend Rachel Lynde reimagined as a romantic partner) beyond simply raising Anne and taking care of the house.
So, why isn’t this one a DIK for me? I liked a lot of things about it, but one important piece is missing. The sense of wonder that permeates the original just isn’t there. Both as a child and later as an adult, I loved watching Anne marvel at nature and new discoveries, and I enjoyed the bits of poetry and literary references sprinkled throughout the books. With the update, Anne and her friends inhabit a more cynical world and as a reader, I felt the lack of that sense of wonder.
While not perfect, Anne of Manhattan is still a very engaging read. If you loved the Anne of Green Gables books, definitely check this one out. And that goes double if you’ve ever wanted to see Anne and Gilbert get the real romance novel treatment.