As a highschool student, I am not sure that I appreciated reading The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence. I missed the depth and the character development of Hagar, only understanding and reflecting the story when reading it for the second time, as an adult. This past summer, I read The Diviners as part of a monthly group read and have picked up A Jest of God as part of my CanadianContent Bingo Challenge.
This novel was ahead of its time in 1966 which speaks to the reason that it is on banned books lists. Rachel was a lonely teacher, 34 years old and living with her needy mother. She was afraid of experiences and lived with her own self restrictions. Her life was routine and her children were the students of her class. She lived in the same apartment above the funeral home her father had run before his death. She cared for her mother, served sandwiches and tea to her card group and had limited social interactions.
She bravely has a summer affair with a man who had lived in Manawaka while they were growing up. Their relationship was unusual and brief leading to Rachel reassessing her on life, her own experience and the town she lived in.
Manawaka is a fictional small town reminiscent of Laurence’s own experience in small town Manitoba and perhaps her own loneliness which is discussed in the video links below.
This CBC Archived interview with Margaret Laurence speakis about her Manawaka series and how Rachel had difficulty connecting with others. She described how she started her novels with an interesting character which was then followed by plot saying that “in a sense writing a novel is a sort of discovery” (Laurence, CBC Interview, 1966). In another CBC Archived Interview her loneliness and drinking problems were discussed posthumously. She committed suicide after discovering her lung cancer and deciding that she did not want to be a burden on her family. She had a detailed plan including emptying capsules to drink, followed by toast and then Gravol so that she would not throw up the medicine. She journaled the experience, asked for forgiveness and reassured the readers of the journal that she felt that she had lived a good life.
Laurence was a beautiful storyteller who layered the details of her characters lives engaging the reader with each page. She wrote about relationships, family, loneliness, and loss through the challenges of every day life. Although published in 1966, this book remains current and I will be interested to read the The Fire Dwellers and A Bird in the House which will complete my reading of the 5 book Manawaka series. I also have her memoir, Dance on the Earth which is in my growing to be read pile.