I grew up reading Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery, pretending I was friends with Anne and Diana, day dreaming about Gilbert, imagining Green Gables and Avonlea and the island and picturing myself in white muslin dresses with leg of mutton sleeves. So it naturally followed that I did my best to read everything else written by Anne’s creator.
The story is of an extended family, the Darks and the Penhallows, who fight, bicker and gossip amongst themselves. If, however, an outside offends a Dark or a Penhallow, they close ranks immediately. For whatever reason, Darks and Penhallows generally only marry each other, which over the years has made for a family tree that no one can unravel. (As a child I accepted the inter-marrying without question, but as an adult I think they probably need some new blood).
The story begins with the matriarch of the family, Aunt Becky on her deathbed. Aunt Becky is a very old woman with an acid tongue, who decides to stir the pot one last time by summoning her whole family to her, in order to tell them to whom she is going to leave her most precious possession to, a family heirloom known as the Dark jug. I think the jug looked something like the jug below, except uglier and with a big crack.
The family duly turn up and are nearly all insulted and offended by Aunt Becky, who has a knack of twitting* them about the things they would rather forget. Everyone endure her jibes though, in order to remain in consideration for the jug. Aunt Becky distributes her possessions amongst her clan, although of course no one gets what they actually want, except for Aunt Becky’s elderly servant, who is given a diamond ring. At the end of the afternoon, Aunt Becky decides to rule the family from the grave, telling everyone that the jug is to be kept by a trustee for a year, after which time they will find out who is to inherit.
Throughout the course of the afternoon, the reader learns about the various Dark and Penhallow family members. There is Drowned John, who came back from a sailing trip to find that his family, believing him to be dead, had held a memorial service for him. Donna, Drowned John’s daughter, is a war widow. She falls in love during the afternoon with Peter Penhallow, an explorer, who has hated Donna his whole life. There is Little Sam and Big Sam who share a home more or less harmoniously. Sweet little Gay has recently fallen in love for the first time and Nan, Gay’s snake hipped, deceptive cousin, is planning to cause havoc. Other characters include Joscelyn and Hugh, who mysteriously separated on their wedding night, and kindly Margaret Penhallow, a poor spinster.
A Tangled Web is a much more grown up story than the Anne books. Aunty Becky dies and the story unfolds with a great many twists and turns. Creating this must have been like a spider weaving a web, with interlinked pieces all over the place until the very end, when all of the stories are satisfactorily resolved. The characters are nastier than those in the Anne books, (probably they are more realistic), but many also have their good points. Occasionally they are brave and kind and loving, in some cases surprising the reader.
A Tangled Web is set later than the Anne books. Girls show their knees and bob their hair and there are a great many people whizzing around in cars. One of the Sam’s wins a statue of ‘Aurorer’ in a raffle, a beautiful, alabaster, naked woman which I imagine is one of those beautiful Art Deco styled statues. The story is also quite dated in a great many ways, as the characters are racist, orphans are overworked and starved, and women do as either their fathers or husbands tell them to. Spinsters are pitied.
Over the years I’ve owned quite a few copies of A Tangled Web, but I loaned several copies to people who didn’t return them. I’ve previously owned several copies with the cover below. (If anyone recognises themselves as a culprit, please just keep it and enjoy it. I’ve bought another copy).
If however, I owned a copy of this beautiful Art Deco edition, I would never loan it to anyone.
A Tangled Web is one of my favourite books by LM Montgomery. It is sarcastic and witty and brilliant and it is extremely satisfying to get to the bottom of the mysteries, especially finding out why Joscelyn and Hugh’s marriage foundered. If you enjoyed the Anne books you should read this book.
*Twitting isn’t a word I generally use, but I’m sure I remember Mrs Rachel Lynde ‘twitting’ Anne.