Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hagar Revisited

I know I wasn't supposed to like it, but I did. It's a general rule that books you read in school are not to be enjoyed. And for some reason, it tends to remain universally despised among my friends. But The Stone Angel is the probably the only novel I've ever read from which I can quote the last sentence. I usually remember books' concepts, stand-out characters, odd situations, but never endings. Ever. That's why I can reread books. But it's hard to deny an ending that actually ends with the end.

I think the book resonated with me for the same reason that the film The Notebook moves me every time: it tells a story from two ends. A rather unsympathetic, proud, petty woman in her nineties tries to run away from her own mortality only to have the regrets of her past collide with her uncomfortable present reality (and worse, her impending deterioration). And yet there's a glimmer of redemption, that sliver of hope that comes when pride is chiseled away. Maybe I see a little of Hagar in myself. Just as I'm sure the still-young Margaret Laurence poured much of her own life into her anti-heroine.

Side thought: Is it just me, or does Laurence look like the Hagar? The image in my head while reading the novel was always that of the author. To me, the two women were physically one and the same.

I read a lot of biographies. So whether I intend to or not, I end up reading first-person novels as accounts of a life once lived, despite being found in the fiction aisle. The Stone Angel is the kind of memoir I hope to write one day. Not necessarily a depressing tale of regret and desperation for approval (I certainly hope not, anyway), but one that's honest, passionate and sweeping, picking up the broken pieces and concluding without self-pity. I guess I want to be in the moment until the end. I want it to end mid-sentence too.

For those who weren't hanging out at the Toronto Film Festival last year, you may not know that The Stone Angel has been made into a movie (to be released May 9th). I know you're shocked. Or grimacing. But I think it has a pretty great chance of achieving cinematic decentness. Because it will finally remove the "What is the imagery in every single noun in this chapter?" English-class drudgery and leave us with pure story. Starring Christine Horne (from Aurora!) and the incomparable Ellen Burstyn as Hagar (the "then" and "now" Hagars, respectively), with a supporting performance by indie darling Ellen Page, I'm clinging to the hope that these performances are grounded enough to prevent the melodrama from creeping in. The book didn't allow for sap; I want to see the grittiness of Hagar's frustrating reality.

My only concern is for the ending. Part of me hopes for a sudden cut to black, a literal interpretation of the ending that I will quote until my own demise:
And then--


Robert Campbell said...

I love that photo of Margaret Laurence - now its official we know she smoked DuMaurier regulars!

Beth said...

i think i was the only person in high school english who loved that book. not necessarily the character, but the book, definitely.

michael lewis said...

Wait! I thought I was the only person who loved The Stone Angel!!??!!

Due to changing schools (numerous times), I actually studied it twice!

Have you ever read A Jest of God, or The Fire-Dwellers? Terribly AWESOME!

I hope I will be able to see the film in theatre, once it's released, if it ever comes to Lethbridge.

Teena said...

Hard to believe but I haven't read this book yet. But I will!

And I'll check out the movie!