I came to this second installment in the Anne of Green Gables series with no clear memory of having read it as a child, although I'm fairly sure that I did. This means that I lack the strong emotional attachment to the book and to the series as a whole which I know is felt by many readers.
When I recently listened to the audiobook of Anne of Green Gables for the first time since my childhood, I felt engaged by the characters and by the setting. I especially responded to Marilla as she came to recognise her love for Anne and developed her ability to express that love. However, I felt less engaged by the characters in this book. In my view, there's not enough of Marilla and the teenage Anne of this book is less interesting a character than the child Anne of the first book. She still has a wonderful imagination, a poetic attachment to the landscape in which she lives and she still gets into scrapes, but Anne appears to undergo very little development until the last paragraphs of the novel. In addition, the other main child characters are not particularly satisfying: Paul seems too good to be true, Davy is irritating and Dora is rather overlooked and neglected.
Another weakness of the novel is that whereas Anne of Green Gables had Anne's character and her development as its narrative focus, this novel seems to be much more a series of episodes strung together without a real theme. That said, one element that emerges is that of communication in relationships between women and men and the danger to happiness caused by unresolved misunderstandings. This, of course, is also a theme of the first novel, with Anne's long-standing refusal to forgive Gilbert Blythe and Marilla's tale of having rejected Gilbert's father.
A particular disappointment for me was the narration by Laurel Merlington. Her reading is very clear, but her voice lacks warmth and softness. My unhappiness with Merlington's narration was probably increased because of my very positive reaction to Kate Burton's reading of Anne of Green Gables. As I listened, I kept feeling that I would be enjoying the book more if I were reading it. I usually count the voice of the narrator as a positive feature of the audiobook format, but not this time.
Overall, I can appreciate how much more I would have liked the book had it been a childhood favourite. It would have had all the familiarity and comfort of visiting old and much-loved friends. This felt a bit like visiting acquaintances after a very long interval and not being totally sure the visit was a good idea.
I don't want to give the impression that my less than totally favourable reaction to this book means that I don't want to read the the rest of the series. I've become attached enough to Avonlea and its inhabitants to want to know what happens next. If I choose an audiobook next time, I'll make sure it's narrated by a kindred spirit with a warm and pleasant voice.
For me, this was a 3-1/2 star read.