Elizabeth Waterston’s The Magic Island
Oxford University Press, 2008

I’ve been reading this book for months. You could actually say ‘years’. Which is pretty funny actually because I bought it immediately upon publication…in 2008. But its format got me hooked in a rather unusual way and in some ways I have been reading the book ever since. (This will all make sense in a moment. Well as sensible as something that revolves around an obsession can be.)

If you have an interest in L.M. Montgomery, you likely will have recognized Elizabeth Waterston’s name immediately, from the work that she did with Mary Rubio editing LMM’s journals, which were published by Oxford University Press in five volumes.

The diaries offer insight and detail about this writer that readers of her fiction not only did not have access to but, in some cases, would never have imagined: if you have an interest in her fiction, you will be intrigued by the journals, and if you have a particular interest in the writing life and the curious interplay between reality and creativity, you will be enthralled by them.

The Magic Island is, in many ways, as massive an undertaking, although it appears confined to a much smaller number of pages. But what it does in those pages is truly remarkable. After an accessible and informed opening segment, which places the author and her works in a wider literary and cultural context, this volume considers each of LMM’s full-length works (including 2 volumes of short stories) in the order in which they were published.

In just a few pages devoted to each book, Elizabeth Waterston manages to place it in relationship to other works (of the author and of literary contemporaries), to events in the author’s life (professional and personal), and to historical and social trends, drawing comparisons and contrasts and positing theories.

If you’re already familiar with the books, these sections can serve as insightful summaries and, if you haven’t read them yet, they can serve as inspiration. Which is why I, almost immediately, had to set the book down again, because despite my ongoing obsession with this author’s work, I had not yet read her third and forth published novels, Kilmeny of the Orchard (which came out in 1910, after Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea), and The Story Girl (1911) mainly because they were narrated by ::whisper:: boys. (I had little patience for that as a girl reader.)

So the reason that I have been reading Elizabeth Waterston’s The Magic Island for such a long time is that I kept having to put it down to read (and, sometimes, re-read) another LMM book (or, series) instead. (I have not yet read A Tangled Web but was already familiar enough with the story to read the commentary anyhow; I still want to think that I have an LMM book “in reserve”.) And, given the author’s passion for her subject, I’d say that Elizabeth Waterston would, at the very least, understand and would likely whole-heartedly, whole-bookedly, approve.

If you are curious about the author or are looking for concise supplementary material to read-along with a particular work of hers, this would be a great library loan for you. But if you have enjoyed her fiction and/or her diaries, if you have ever re-read even just one of her novels, this is a keeper for you. And no matter that it’s only available in hard cover: you’ll be wanting it to stand up to many re-readings.