I was in my twenties when I first read Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel. It made an enormous impression on me. This is one of those must read books for women, told through Hagar Shipley’s ninety-year-old eyes. Throughout the book, small nostalgic events trigger flashbacks that reveal the story of her life and her strong and often irrational personality. I remember a scene where she imagines herself as a beautiful young woman, swirling, laughing and dancing with her husband. Then, in real life, she finds herself falling down the stairs in her 65-year-old son’s home.
Hagar Shipley is one of those women that you love to hate, or, perhaps more accurately, hate to love. She has been called one of the most memorable characters in Canadian fiction. She is a wild spirit, like many of the women in the Sixty and Me community. Stubborn, opinionated, and very self-reliant, Hagar is locked in her often restricted view of the world. She is often intolerant, blind to criticism, and dismissive of other points of view. Yet, at the same time, she is a refreshingly authentic and entirely realistic character.
When Hagar turns ninety, she fights her mortality by planning an adventure to prove her freedom and independence. There is something so mysterious about her, so passionate and powerful in her refusal to be invisible. The ending is a shocking and surprising, yet in many ways predictable.
This book is fundamentally about aging. It is about a proud woman facing her death in her own way. It is about love and forgiveness and letting go in every sense. Margaret Laurence was born in Manitoba, Canada and this was her first in a series of books about a fictional town called Manawaka.
As an author, she reminds me of Alice Munro, who just won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Both of them write about women who are tough pioneering trailblazers, women who carved out an independent identify in the remote sexually conservative parts of Canada. I hope you enjoy this classic read. I am happy to include “The Stone Angel” in my list of book recommendations for women over 60.
If you don’t already have a copy of the book, here is a link to The Stone Angel on Amazon. Once you read the book, please join the conversation.
To kick things off, here are a few questions. Please add your thoughts in the comments:
What is the significance of the stone angel and how does it relate to Hagar’s personality?
Did you relate to the issues that occurred as a result of Hagar living with her 65-year-old son and his wife?
What did you think of Hagar’s flashbacks – did they help you to understand her – and perhaps your own sense of nostalgia about the past?
Describe your response to Hagar Shipley. Does your reaction to her change during the course of the novel, and if so, in what way?
I hope that you enjoy this book! Please share your thoughts below.