Tuesday, December 11, 2018
'Mistress Pat' by L.M. Montgomery
When she was twenty, nearly everyone thought Patricia Gardiner ought to be having beaus - except of course, Pat herself. For Pat, Silver Bush was both home and heaven. All she could ever ask of life was bound in the magic of the lovely old house on Prince Edward Island, "where good things never change." And now there was more than ever to do, what with planning for the Christmas family reunion, entertaining a countess, playing matchmaker, and preparing for the arrival of the new hired man. Yet as those she loved so dearly started to move away, Pat began to question the wisdom of her choice of Silver Bush over romance. Was it possible to be lonely at Silver Bush?
Pat of Silver Bush is back for a sequel. If you imagine nobody could possibly eke out an interesting story about a young woman who simply keeps house and enjoys simple things, then think again. But your feelings about the book might hinge on how you feel about sitting in cosy rooms, having jokes, chats and nibbles with close family members. If you're a domestic introvert like me, it'll tick all your boxes. But if you always prefer more of a complex action plot, then consider yourself duly warned, a huge percentage is jokes, chats and nibbles.
I'd better just warn you, there are plot spoilers in this review (despite some readers considering Mistress Pat doesn't have much plot.) It's the sort of book where any decent thoughts for a review must directly address what happens, or else there's nothing much to say. Occasional ones are like that, so proceed with caution. But I will warn you when we get to really dangerous waters.
It picks up soon after the spot where the first book leaves off. Mother is a semi-invalid, having undergone a tricky heart operation. Even though Pat calls her the 'life and soul of the house,' the ongoing story still seems to function without her playing much of a role. I think Judy is the real heart and soul. Pat has opted to give up the chance to teach school so Winnie is free to marry Frank, but the decision was a no-brainer for her. Dad and Sid still work hard, and hire a great new hand named Tillytuck. Baby sister Cuddles is now a bright young teenager who prefers to be called Rae (short for Rachel). And Jingle/Hilary is off learning to be a terrific architect.
The story quietly taps into the topic of time, which always fascinates me. A distant relative who pays a visit thinks, 'What a quiet, beautiful place where there is time to live.' That's part of the charming Silver Bush atmosphere Pat loves to foster, but even with the illusion of time meandering slowly, the changes she tries to ward off keep coming. I was in the perfect mood for them. Not long ago, my Dad passed away and soon after that it became necessary for my family to move house. Both were out of the blue. And our little nine-year-old guinea pig crossed the rainbow bridge too. I sense LMM wrote this book in a later stage of her career, as her similar reaction to being knocked around by life's sudden turns. One sentence I highlighted was this one. 'How life grew around changes until they became a part of it and were changes no more.' Pat has to experience this and so do we.
BIG PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD
The end for good old Judy gives us one of the best perspectives about death I've come across in a story. She faces it with composure and contentment rather than any sense of fear or dread. Judy's simply relieved that her final days will not be a nuisance to the family she loves so well. 'I've had a happy life here Patsy, and now death seems real friendly.' Pat reflects as we all do that many people might not consider Judy's life happy from their outside observation, since she was just a servant working on a small farm. Yet Judy controlled the one thing anybody can; her attitude. What a brilliant old role model she is, and I shed a few tears over her.
The tragedy that befalls Silver Bush seems so cruel! As I reached that part, I thought, 'Whoa, can LMM really be mean enough to take it there?' knowing instantly that she does. How will Pat cope without the love of the family home she's built her whole identity around? Maybe no worse than me, since I was crushed just reading about it. The more you dwell on it, the huger the loss looms. It's not just the precious walls but all the story fodder they contain. The cookbooks with the ancient clan recipes, and the old love letters reduced to ashes.
Was the burning totally necessary as a plot device? Wouldn't it have been nice for Hilary to have Pat choose him over Silver Bush while it was still standing? Surely the way it is might give the impression that she took him as a last resort, regarding him as second best? I'm sure her wider community would think so.Yet on the other hand, he has the pleasure of knowing he'll be the only one who can possibly make up for her crushing loss, which I think is how LMM would want us to see it. There was far too little of Hilary in this story. Too many passing mentions, and not enough personal appearances, which is why I didn't give the book quite full marks. Also, I wish Montgomery hadn't dragged it out to eleven years, when all of the events could have been just as easily compressed into three or four.
OK, THE WORST SPOILERS ARE OVER NOW.
Since life's messages can dawn on us in simple insights from the blue, that's how a lot of the book is structured, so I'll finish with a few very brief observations.
* Courtships can take as short as Rae's (three days) or as long as Pat and Hilary's (20+ years). Most are more normal, and fall anywhere in between.
* Hilary Gordon deserves more of a high profile in readers' list of wonderful romantic heroes than he often gets. The way he stays true to Pat while she fobs him off for year after year is astounding. And this extract from the letter he sent her works its magic on me. 'Don't feel badly because I love you and you can't love me. If the choice had been mine I would have still have chosen to love you. There are people who try to forget a hopeless love. I'm not one of them, Pat... My love for you has enriched my whole existence and given me the gift of clear vision for the things that matter. It has been a lamp held before my feet whereby I have avoided many pitfalls of baser passions and unworthy dreams.'
* David Kirk is one of my favourite characters in this story. Rather than coming across as 'the other guy', he's such a cool, kind person.
* Perhaps different families are neither superior nor inferior to others. Do the Binnies really have bad taste in every aspect of their lives, or are they just different from the Gardiners? I wouldn't be surprised if some readers concur more with their decorating styles and methods of communication.
* Pat hates inter-family quarrels but I'm wondering how they'll avoid future friction between her offspring and Sid's, since he went and married May. With such different mothers, I can't imagine these sets of cousins ever seeing eye to eye.
* Pat and Hilary's kids had better steel themselves to hear lots of stories about Silver Bush!