Monday, January 21, 2008

The Stone Angel

For the longest time I had been postponing my reading of Margaret Laurence.
Then I picked up her novel from 1964, The Stone Angel.
Recently, I have also read A Jest of God [excellent book] and I do plan to continue on and read the other Manawaka books in the series.

With Margaret Laurence, I think we are looking at some essential Canadian literature here, and yet, nearly every high school student from St John's to Victoria would rise up and say, "What? Are you nuts?"
As much as this book is inflicted upon the high-schoolers of Canada, it sure has not gained a welcome reception by that age group! I recall my niece complaining about it just last year. For the Canadian teenager, seeing The Stone Angel on the English syllabus has become the equivalent of.... hmmm, what would one say?
Having a radio that is locked on the CBC station?

I believe this is because The Stone Angel is a book that is all about the "interior" and to truly love the book the reader must have an appreciation of the life processes involved in becoming an elderly person. From start to finish we are on the inside of this character Hagar Shipley. It is not the realm of the exciting pace and involved plotline. This book is rather a very somber, brooding, introspective look at a proud and uncompromising woman in her nineties. She is a woman who does not (in the slightest) want to succumb to the realities, adjustments, and inconveniences of aging and dying. As she faces the combined trauma of diminished health and loss of meaningful relationships, she has to come to terms with who she really is.
How far will her incessant pride and irritable crankiness get her in this last year of her life?
How can she escape from those who try to make it all easier for her? Will she confess her unmitigated (and inevitable) need of others... of those who truly, and undauntingly, care for her well-being?
Will she break down or remain haughty?

Laurence is simply brilliant in that she weaves a seamless web between the present and the past, between Hagar's current experience and her memories.
It is not easy, the transition[s] that we who will live on into old age will have to make if we are to succeed at being old. This book pulls no punches with how difficult the process can be, especially for the type "A" personality.

It is no accident that the book begins with the lines from Dylan Thomas:
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

It is a story about a woman who raged.
And yet (in my opinion) there is not one real angry tirade in it!
It is (I think) a different sort of "raging" that is being dealt with here in the story, as with the poem by Thomas. It is not the kind of raging that is with gritted teeth and defiance, [denial] it is the kind of raging that is mingled with profound sadness and regret... yes, anger too I suppose, but anger only because one has to leave behind so much of what one loves.
Here is the realistic journey of a woman who has to come to terms with the fact that "what's going to happen can't be delayed indefinitely."
I think the book is somewhat of a masterpiece.
Voraciously, I read it.



Beth said...

Excellent review.
Wonderful book.

Dorothy W. said...

Well, I'm looking forward to reading this book for the Slaves of Golconda -- it sounds like just my kind of thing!

Stefanie said...

Cip, be sure to join in on the Slaves discussion of this book at the end of the month. It would be great to have you!