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 movie— no 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.