"The Stone Angel"

The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence

This is my first Margaret Laurence book, a bit of an awkward confession for someone who likes to push Canadian authours on fellow readers. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this. This is a great story, painful and beautiful and real. I think I have sometimes lumped all Canadian authours into a group called “Too Intellectual for Me” and as a result I have missed out on some great writing that I am only now beginning to enjoy.

Hagar Shipley is the main character, an elderly widow living with her son and his wife. Things have come to the point where she needs more care than her Daughter-in-law, Doris, can provide. Hagar is suspicious that they want to put her in a “home” and she is adamant she won’t go. She won’t discuss it with them and becomes defensive and hostile when they try to talk to her.

So she hatches a plan. She takes her uncashed old age security cheque, hides it in her purse and when Doris goes out to run errands, Hagar makes her escape. She manages to get the cheque cashed and buy some crackers, cheese and a bus ticket and is on her way to some vague beach destination she recalls from her past, though she sometimes forgets on the way where she is and what she is doing there.

She finds a run-down abandoned house where she can hide out – it even has a musty old bed – and she sleeps. When she awakes cold and damp, aching and hungry, she gets angry at Doris for letting her room get so cold and with her son, Marvin, for not paying enough attention to his mother's comfort. Then she remembers where she is and how she came to be there. Soon, she is surprised to find she is not alone in her shelter.

 While she is taking this one last fling at independence her mind travels back to her days as a young wife and mother and the story of her life, not a happy one, is revealed. And now I’ve said enough; to know the rest of the story, you’ll have to read the book.  

Margaret Laurence is a good story teller. She had me feeling sorry for Hagar, who was piteous in her fear and weakness, and exasperating in her rudeness and short temper, all at the same time. Hagar is a very human woman, one in whom I think most of us would find something of ourselves, though we may not like to admit it. I look forward to reading more of Laurence’s stories and hope to find their characters just as real and interesting as this one.


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