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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Reader's Diary #1146- Margaret Laurence: The Stone Angel


I'm finally on the board for the 8th Canadian Book Challenge. What kind of host am I, taking this long? You'd think I'd set a better example.

Anyway, at least I'm in with a good one: Margaret Laurence's The Stone Angel. A classic. As a fan of A Bird in the House and the Diviners, I don't really know why it's taken me until now to get around what it is arguably Laurence's best known work. For that matter, I'm not entirely sure why I'm such a fan. When I hear people complain about CanLit, with its slow-paced, character-driven, landscapey dreariness, I've usually offered them Alice Munro, begged them, to please use her as an example. Name names! I cried. But then, if I'm being fair, Laurence's work also matches those unfortunate labels. There's only one reason I forgive Laurence for it: she does it freakishly well.

The Stone Angel is once again insightful, beautifully written, and Hagar belongs is a top 10 list of best-developed Canadian literary characters of all time (the others being Anne Shirley of course, Barney Panofsky, Sheilagh Fielding, and... I don't know? The Paperbag Princess? Let's just say top 5 list for now until I think more on this). Notice I said best-developed, not likeable. She's enjoyable to read, not entirely detestable, but certainly annoying in her prideful, demanding, and snobbish ways. She's also funny, but in a CanLit sort of way, so if you haven't read the book already, I hope you're not expecting Marg, Princess Warrior or anything that outlandish. (Saying that, I think Mary Walsh could do a marvelous job portraying her in a movieno I didn't see Ellen Burstyn's 2007 take on the character). Because Hagar is so old, I started to think the book actually might have more appeal today than when it was written in 1964. With our great number of baby boomers slowly moving into the oldest demographic, and the societal costs of this move, I figure it must be about time the world focuses on them again instead of being so obsessed with youth. Alas, this, this, this, and this. So, if Hagar has anything to say about feeling ostracized in your last years on Earth, shut up. Millennials!

The theme of pride runs through the book and treated with due respect. More often, Laurence seems to making a point about the folly of pride, but not simplifying the issue, there are times when I think I understood at least where the pride came from and even the occasional time that I thought it was necessary. Hagar, despite her increasing senility or maybe sometimes even because of it, is not a static character and, though it isn't handed to a reader in certain terms, learns something about herself and others over the course of the book.


9 comments:

Kate said...

One of my sisters calls this book "Mutterings of a Bitter Old Woman". I do appreciate it more now than I did at age 17, but I still much prefer The Diviners and Morag Gunn.

John Mutford said...

I still prefer The Diviners to this book and A Bird in the House for that matter, but as a character, I quite liked Hagar, even, dare I say it, more than Morag. (I'd still not name a child after either one, but both great characters in their own right).

Kate said...

My friend's husband wanted to name their daughter Morag. She ended up being named Vivian.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I've always preferred A Bird in the House as well, but think I may take your hint and reread them both now that I am ever so slightly older than when I first read them, so see if the ensuing decades have made any difference.

Loni said...

Wow, it's been so long since I read this. Maybe I'm due for a reread... Or maybe I should read The Diviners. Also, please future parents, do not name your child Morag.

Melwyk said...

I've always loved this book. Haven't reread it in years, but I agree that Hagar Shipley is a fantastically complex character. Definitely up there in the top 5!

raidergirl3 said...

On the surface it shouldn't be a book I would like - as you said, slow-paced, character-driven, landscapey dreariness. Like you, I enjoyed Hagar for reasons that make no sense cause she was not likeable.
But I remember really enjoying the book. Great start to the challenge.

John Mutford said...

Loni: Did you see Guardians of the Galaxy yet? They named a planet after her.

Loni said...

Awesome! No, I haven't seen it yet. I'm going tomorrow. I'm a little extra excited to see Guardians now.