Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tangled Web

Montgomery, L.M. 1931. A Tangled Web. Bantam Books. 257 pages.

A dozen stories have been told about the old Dark jug. This is the true one.

What can I say about A Tangled Web. I love it. I absolutely love it. It's one that had me at hello. But. It's so completely different from Anne (her most widely known and most beloved heroine) that it may come as a shock to some readers. I think you can love both. But not every reader does. What is it about? It's about a family. A dysfunctional family. A large clan of somewhat eccentric, wonderfully flawed characters. The Darks and the Penhallows. The matriarch of the clan is Aunt Becky. (Becky Dark, nee Penhallow). She's an old woman (85), a character if ever there was one. A lady who speaks her mind. The kind of character you love reading about, but not necessarily the kind of person you want to sit next to at Christmas or Thanksgiving!

The book opens with Aunt Becky deciding to hold a "levee." A clannish get together--minus the food and drinks--to discuss her will. At the party everyone will learn who gets what. All of them--young and old, married and single--want the old Dark jug, the "priceless" family heirloom dating back a hundred years or so. The book doesn't have one main character. The book doesn't even have six or seven main characters. The book examines so many characters, so many relationships, that it is easy to see why the title "A Tangled Web" is appropriate. But it is also one of the reasons that I love it. It's complex and clever and memorable.

Unlike some of L.M. Montgomery's other books, this one was a contemporary novel. Published in 1931, it was set within that time frame, the modern era. No rose-colored glasses imagining of the past, this one is more vibrant and colorful. It's told in six parts or sections: "Aunt Becky's Levee," "Wheels Within Wheels," "Midsummer Madness," "The Moving Finger," "Blindly Wise," and "Finally, Brethren." It follows individuals within the family through the course of a year as everyone waits and sees who will be the one to get the jug.

My good friend, Anonymous L asks, "Which L M Montgomery did you like best? Why? Which book was the funniest? Which had the characters you cared most about? Which characters were they and why did you like/enjoy reading about them?"

I love L.M. Montgomery. My favorites (over all the Montgomery books, not just these listed) would probably include Anne of Green Gables, Anne of the Island, Anne's House of Dreams, and Rilla of Ingleside. But I also love, love, love A Tangled Web. It doesn't make me cry--with sorrow--like Anne of Green Gables and Rilla of Ingleside; or cry with joy like Anne of the Island. But I have always found it smart, clever, and memorable. The stories and characters have stuck with me. Down to the details. My favorite story line from A Tangled Web would probably be the one of Joscelyn and Hugh. As for favorite characters from the Anne books, don't get me started! Seriously though, I heart Matthew. I so need a Matthew in my life. And Gilbert--oh my, what can I say about him. I wouldn't mind a Gilbert in my life either ;) What I love about Montgomery are her characters. Whether she's writing a short story, a stand-alone novel, or a series (be it long or short), her characters always have such depth and substance. They feel real, they act real; there is just something so genuine about her work.

Yati asks, 
Did you enjoy it? Did you find the many characters and relationships confusing? If you've read the Anne books, how does it compare?

Yes, I loved it. No, I didn't. I'm not sure why. I had read this one back as a teen, but I hadn't read it since. Yet, it felt like I was coming home. All the characters, all the stories just felt right to me. Maybe because I knew which relatives were mentioned just briefly during the levee, and which ones we would come to follow in the subsequent chapters. It's not like I could diagram out the family tree or anything. But the main characters I found charming and easy to follow. The others I didn't worry about so much.

I don't know that comparison is possible between A Tangled Web and the Anne series. They're both good. One requires more of a long-term commitment. One book versus eight, I believe. But they're both well done. Anne is a bit more nostalgic and feel-good in a sweet way. Anne is a character that is hard not to love. She's so lovably friendly and optimistic. She's so amusingly drawn. She's a people-person with an active imagination. There's her zeal for life, she's a very passionate, emotional, heart-on-her-sleeve (at times) kinda girl. A romantic at heart. She wants to believe the best about the world, about others. There's really no keeping her down. She's strong and wonderful and charming.

But I love A Tangled Web. I loved the family dynamics. I loved the complexity of it. The secrets. The lies. The betrayals. The hopes. The dreams. The loves. The losses. So many different personalities. So many different relationships. Things happen in A Tangled Web. There is something that I've always found clever and funny about this one. I loved the characters. I loved how eccentric and quirky they all were.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Laura Schaefer said...

Good for you for bringing attention to a great classic! Have you ever read I Capture the Castle? Also excellent.

Unknown said...

I've read a lot of Montgomery, but never thought to pick this one up. I'll have to, now. Thank you for the great review!

Lauri said...

You can have Gilbert. I'd like Ken Ford. I have this book, but haven't had a chance to read it yet. I need to.

Lori Pruyne said...

I have never met anyone else in my life who has read this book, and it's one of my favorites. I read the cover off my first copy. I loved it as a child, and now I can relate to so many of the characters even better. I just love Margaret! Thanks for bringing this wonderful book to new readers!