The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence is the eloquent story of a 90-year-old woman coming to terms with her life thus far and facing what happens next. Hagar Shipley is frail and dependent on her son and daughter-in-law but unlike many of the kindly “grandmothers” portrayed in fiction, she is stubborn, difficult and sometimes not very likable.
Through flashbacks Hagar tells her story of growing up the daughter of a stern, well-to-do merchant in the fictional town of Manawaka in western Canada. Hagar shows a rebellious streak when she marries Bramwell Shipley, a good dancer and handsome fellow, but one who isn’t quite from her same social class.
I think Hagar’s unflinching honesty as she recalls her life is part of what makes her character believable. For example, here are some of her thoughts on her husband: “Whatever anyone said of him, no one could deny he was a good-looking man. It’s not every man who can wear a beard. His suited him. He was a big-built man, and he carried himself so well. I could have been proud, going to town or church with him, if only he’d never open his mouth.”
Hagar has lived with her decisions and the consequences of her uncompromising attitude; however, now Hagar has to learn acceptance. She may be old and frail but Hagar still wants to be in control of her life even when her son and daughter-in-law have other thoughts. They want Hagar to go to a nursing home but she is adamant that that will be the death of her and so she plans an escape.
This is a novel that focuses on the internal. We have Hagar’s brooding thoughts and her rage at growing older and dependant on others. There are some passages that I found just heartbreaking. And, because of all of this I found Hagar a character with so much depth that you feel like you really know this woman.
I felt a very personal connection with this novel because I’ve seen some of Hagar in some of the women in my family. This novel makes you think about getting older and how each one of us will approach old age. Perhaps that’s why a lot of reviews on Amazon were unfavorable and said who cares about an old, hateful woman. Well, growing older may not be all sunshine and rainbows but shouldn’t we care about older members in our families? And what about when each one of us gets old? We are all going in that direction after all.
I found this to be an excellent book and with so much more to discuss than what I’ve written about. I highly recommend it and I also hope you’ll join in book discussion with the Slaves of Golconda over at the MetaxuCafe forum.