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The Stone Angel: 04/16/19

Stone Angel

The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence is part of the Manawaka Sequence. I read it because it was mentioned as the most boring assigned reading for high schoolers in Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks (2019). Curious and in need of more Canadian fiction, I decided to read this disparaged classic.

The stone angel was carved from Italian marble and sits atop the grave of the protagonist's mother. As she is now in her 90s, she is the last surviving person who has a personal memory of the angel. She wonders how much longer the angel will remain with no one to tend to it.

And that opening paragraph or so sets the tone for this novel. Hagar Shipley in the present, let us assume late 1950s as the book was published in 1960, is trying to hold onto her life, her routine, her house. But she is slowly failing and it's obvious to her son and daughter in law that she can't stay at home.

This present day story is fairly short. She suffers a fall in front of her son and daughter-in-law. They convince her to move to a home. She eventually does move in. She settles reluctantly into a new routine. Finally at peace she dies in bed.

The bulk of the book though is historical fiction told more or less in chronological order through her lengthy memories. It's here that we see the struggles of rural life of being a woman in what was then a cold, unforgiving wilderness. She was ill prepared for marriage, sex, pregnancy and childbirth but muddled along and managed to thrive.

Coming to this book in my mid-forties, I found it a quick read. It's a quiet piece told by a strong woman who is running out of life. I can, though, see why it would strike a high schooler as boring.

Three stars

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