This book I picked up because the woman in it is at a phase of her life I could identify with entirely Rachel Cameron is trapped, totally trapped, in a life of service and guilt and concealment It s so small town OntarioStill, she finds rewards in her life, and eventually opens herself only to experience additional challenges.
It s not a comfortable book I feel so for Rachel The scenes with her mother run right to my spine, as her mother passively aggressively ruins her life They are underwritten not heavy handed at all, but the chills are there as her mother says Don t be late, will you, dear Little tendrils of control.
I m so glad I read this It is beautiful, and written by a master It s given me a new appreciation for Laurence after the high school destruction I m off to reread the others now.
5 This is the second in Laurence s five novel Manawaka sequence it followed The Stone Angel 1964 , which I reviewed in December Recently reissued as part of the Apollo Classics imprint, these two books have been a wonderful opportunity for me to further my knowledge of Canadian literature.
Although Rachel Cameron, the narrator of A Jest of God, is a 34 year old second grade teacher who still lives with her mother, she has attributes in common with 90 year old Hagar Shipley, the unforgettable central character of The Stone Angel Both have a history of sexual hang ups Rachel s in the form of erotic dreams and experience temporary losses of self control The most striking example is when Rachel reluctantly accepts her fellow teacher Calla s invitation to her Pentecostal church and, though she is mortified at hearing others speaking in tongues, involuntarily enters in herself with hysterical crying.
I loved this sequence The Tabernacle of the Risen and Reborn provides such a contrast to Rachel s mother s staid church tradition, and it s a perfect introduction to Rachel s patterns of pride and embarrassment another link to Hagar Although Rachel frequently issues stern orders to herself Now, then Enough of this The main thing is to be sensible, to stop thinking and to go to sleep she can t seem to stop worrying and second guessing This applies to her career as well as to her personal relationships With her principal s support, she takes surprisingly stern action against her favorite pupil when he starts playing truant.
It s hard to say much about the plot without giving too much away Do I emulate the vagueness of the back cover blurb and simply explain that Rachel unexpectedly falls in love for the first time, and embarks upon an affair that will change her life in unforeseen ways I d prefer to go into a bit depth view spoiler To start with it seems Rachel s best romantic prospect is Calla, who s certainly interested But about a third of the way into the novel, as the boredom of the long summer vacation is setting in, Nick Kazlik returns to town He was the milkman s son and Rachel s childhood acquaintance, and is now a high school teacher in another town They go out to a movie and share a kiss, and from there their relationship progresses rapidly Rachel loses her virginity to him out in a field, and the sex they have the she s seized with a belated terror of pregnancy No doubt her anxiety about motherhood is colored by her passive aggressive relationship with her own mother, whose dodgy heart leaves her utterly dependent on Rachel.
The novel reminded me most of Margaret Drabble s The Millstone and Carrie Snyder s Girl Runner Like the protagonists of those novels, Rachel s options seem stark acquiring a secret abortion, or changing her life irrevocably by having a child out of wedlock As the title phrase suggests, Rachel feels God is laughing at her presumptuousness first for believing she might be loved in proportion to her own passion, and then for thinking she could become a mother I wasn t fond of the way the book backtracked on this main source of tension at the end A retreat from calamity might seem fitting given Rachel s usual overthinking, but the resolution felt to me like too much of a deus ex machina reprieve.
Ultimately, I found Nick and Rachel s affair the least interesting element of this novel Compared with the friendship with Calla, the startling religious experience, the interactions with pupils and the school principal, the troubled mother daughter relationship, and an odd late night encounter with the new owner of her late father s funeral parlor, what s a bit of sex We re meant to rejoice at Rachel s chance at romance, I think, but also to recognize it as a fleeting but necessary spur to an altered life hide spoiler In This Celebrated Novel, Margaret Laurence Writes With Grace, Power, And Deep Compassion About Rachel Cameron, A Woman Struggling To Come To Terms With Love, With Death, With Herself And Her WorldTrapped In A Milieu Of Deceit And Pettiness Her Own And That Of Others Rachel Longs For Love, And Contact With Another Human Being Who Shares Her Rebellious Spirit Through Her Summer Affair With Nick Kazlik, A Schoolmate From Earlier Years, She Learns At Last To Reach Out To Another Person And To Make Herself VulnerableA Jest of God Won The Governor General S Award For And Was Released As The Successful Film, Rachel Rachel The Novel Stands As A Poignant And Singularly Enduring Work By One Of The Most Distinguished AuthorsA Jest of God Is Part Of The Acclaimed Manawaka Series Which Also Contains The Stone Angel, The Fire Dwellers, A Bird In The House And The Diviners If only I could concur with Margaret Atwood s enthusiasm for A Jest of God and her boundless admiration for Margaret Laurence, who had the power to reduce her toa quaking jellyIf only I had a time machine It would take me to year 1966 and I would reread A Jest of God then At that point I would probably look like that, while writing this review Alas, the year is 2017 and as it seems, some charm of this novel has evaporated It made me think of a long forgotten bottle of once alluring perfume.
Review to come.
I cannot praise this novel highly enough In a way, Margaret Laurence has crafted a mature coming of age story Striving to send out the message, that it s not too late to be what you might of become earlier on in life The protagonist featured in Laurence s stories of life in Manawaka, Canada, is Rachel, a spinster teacher who finds herself stuck in a middle some life, going nowhere It isn t upon the introduction to newcomer, Nick, that Rachel embarks on a sexual initiation into the women that was long pronounced emotionally gone years ago Rachel s life is suddenly turned around for the better, sense of humor always intact Margaret Laurence handles her protagonist with gentle care, respecting and encouraging her decisions The town of Manawaka is too small for a woman as strong as Rachel, and it is her growth into adulthood that seals this novel with sentimentality and love.
I love the way Laurence writes, but I do not expect happy reads Her characters are real people, but they often withhold themselves emotionally My memory isn t perfect on the others I ve read, so I can t say this is a willful withholding It isn t willful here Rachel Cameron would like than anything to be able to speak what she thinks But she is too careful of her listener and wouldn t for anything hurt someone s feelings.
This is written mostly in the first person While not in the least stream of consciousness no run on sentences here , nearly all of it is internal dialogue Some of it is Rachel wool gathering , considering how she might respond in certain circumstances, even picturing how others might act if a future situation might occur It s than if he says that, I ll say this but we ve probably all been there to some extent.
I could write so very much but the I want to write become huge spoilers I wanted this to be a 5 star read, and I can t figure out why I think it comes up short But it does, and that s that.
I got the curse this week I was of course relieved Who wouldn t be Anyone would naturally be relieved, under the circumstances It stands to reason You hear of women waiting for it, and worrying incessantly, and then when it comes, they re released and everything is all right and that anxiety is over for the moment and for a while one need not think What would I do What would become of me I was terribly relieved It was a relief, reprieve.
That is a lie, Rachel That is really a lie, in the deepest way possible for anyone to lie.
No Yes Both are true Does one have to choose between two realities If you think you love two men, the heart throb column in the daily paper used to say when I was still consulting it daily, then neither one is for you If you think you contain two realities, perhaps you contain none.
If I had to choose between feelings, I know which it would be But that would be a disaster, from every point of view except the most inner one, and if you choose that side, you would really be on your own, now and for ever, and that couldn t, I think, be borne, not by me.
Poor Rachel, always thinking and then backtracking and correcting her thinking, as though the expectations of Manawaka society in general and her mother in particular ought to have control even over her private thoughts Ah, mothers and daughters I have a mother and two daughters I am a mother and a daughter I don t have relationships as controlled or controlling as in A Jest of God, but do remember feeling the weight of unvoiced expectations when I was a teenager originally titled A Jest of God, the edition I read had been renamed Rachel, Rachel I can t find a reason for why it had been renamed and I assume at some point the publishers reverted to the original title but the original is much fitting The climax does indeed seem A Jest of God Himself view spoiler After finally making a physical connection with a man for the first time at 35, Rachel fears she s pregnant Knowing that she can never tell the father, who has skipped town anyway, or her mother, whose frail heart would never survive the humiliation, Rachel considers suicide and then, as a last resort, an appeal to the God she doesn t believe in When it turns out she had a tumor, which required a hospital stay in the city to remove, Rachel got the resolve to finally start living her own life, deciding to uproot her mother and move them both out to Vancouver to be nearer to her sister Before she moves, Rachel realises that the town assumed she had gone to the city for an abortion and that she and her mother were fleeing in shame Who but God could conceive of such a punishment for answered prayers hide spoiler I love Margaret Laurence I know I m supposed to feel some ambivalence about her because she s sometimes racist, and maybe classist, but for what it s worth, I don t care Sometimes I wonder whether the politics of a writer can be left aside when considering the merits of the writing We ve been talking in class about this idea whether because an author does terrible things in their work public life, whether we then need to dismiss their writing because of their unsavory personal story We concluded in class that, no, you can appreciate the writing while holding the author accountable for their public actions beliefs I don t know if it s the same when an author writes about their unsavoury ideas, but does so in a beautiful and compelling way Not a problem in Jest of God, though Margaret Laurence is paying attention to the mother daughter relationship and the power a mother has over a daughter Our protagonist, Rachel Cameron, is perhaps anxious than I am and that s saying something these days and her narrative reads painfully as we experience with her her almost never ending monologues of self doubt, anxiety and self loathing Her mother is such a horrible, horrible mother And Rachel knows it And the mother does, too And the novel is about how the two of them figure out how to make their relationship work Sort of It s also about Rachel figuring out how to be in her own skin without feeling like her skin is crawling.
I appreciate the book for its merits beautifully plotted, rich character development, haunting narrative voice I can t say I enjoyed it though, if only because Rachel s anxiety was portrayed so well and her narrative voice captivates that anxiety so well that I found reading the novel anxiety producing than relaxing So I d suggest this book only so long as you re reading it safely on a beach somewhere and not, for instance, trying to get your own life sorted.
Alex Colville, Summer in Town When I picked up this book to start reading it, I giggled at how incredibly Canadian it is Adorned with the above Colville painting, winner of the 1966 Governor General s Award, set in Manawaka, Manitoba, with an afterword by Margaret Atwood It doesn t get too much high brow Canuck than this This is the second in the Manawaka series, following The Stone Angel Like The Stone Angel, this book features a female protagonist, and her very interior struggles Rachel Cameron is 34, a primary school teacher living with her hypochondriac, guilt tripping mother She is trapped in their apartment, fittingly situated over a funeral home.
The claustrophobia extends past their home, into the small community of Manawaka, where she fears the judgment of all the watching eyes, where she constantly berates herself for the most minute action, questioning herself and tying herself tighter and tighter into her secretive self made prison of anxiety She is possibly the loneliest character I ve read in a long time.
She desperately wants to be seen as a good person, to be a good daughter But she also wants love, sex, connection, even motherhood, though those seem to be impossibilities When Nick Kazlik enters her life, though, she has hope for the future.
This book is actually a coming of age story, even though the person in question is in her mid thirties and should have come to age a long time ago She s depicted as coltish on long, tottering legs, she s sexually inexperienced, living much like an adolescent under the strong thumb of her mother She starts to see that people get the lives they want and if this is the case, how will she make that happen for herself In desperation, she asks for God s help The answer she gets is a joke on herself and anyone who cares about what other people think.
I love Margaret Laurence s writing I love the strong voice she gives to women, to Canadians, and how modern this still reads, even though it was written over half a century ago Alex Colville, To Prince Edward Island this is a review from 30,000 feet i floated above the words in the book as i read rather than immersing myself in the action as i normally do because my reading brain has abandoned me this slim novel should not have taken me the weeks a month that it took to get through margaret atwood, to me, the lesser margaret of canadian literature, remarks in her afterword about this book by the margaret i consider the greater, that she read it in one sitting, which seems about right just because i dislike her characters does not mean i always disagree with her still, i believe my weak powers of concentration did me an inadvertent service here because A Jest of God is not an easy book to read, even if it is, in style and on the surface, a simple one.
rachel cameron is a thirty four year old woman who teaches grade two and lives with her mother in a small apartment in the house in the small town she grew up in the man who bought her deceased drunk father s funeral parlour that makes up the rest of the house allowed them to stay on in perpetuity as part of the terms of sale she has a sister who got married and moved away and never comes home, leaving the care of her preening, selfish, overbearing and hypochondriacal mother to rachel on the surface it would seem that rachel doesn t mind she goes through the motions of her life, teaching her students, minding her mother, accompanying her colleague calla to tabernacle even though she has no faith, all the while thinking terrible thoughts about them sometimes her inner monologue and the action blurs, as if rachel cracks and spurts out that venom that keeps circulating through her repressed mind rachel is not likeable but she is, as a character, a brittle bitch i can finally understand sorry, muriel spark sorry, margaret atwood but not really rachel s never been married but she s horny and when an old acquaintance, also a teacher, a man named nick, comes back to town for the summer holiday, she has an affair with him it is her first ever, and now her thoughts turn to fantasy of sex with nick even as she s having sex with nick , of love with nick and a life with nick but the affair with nick is not the stuff of fairy tale margaret laurence does not allow the reader any such delusion even if rachel carries on in her own mind from the first date, nick is a selfish prick, in all senses rachel flounders, attempting to listen, to make conversation but eventually begins to wish for none, only to be filled by him and to return to the embroidering of her fantasy, and then to the machinations of her duty, to dear mama nick made me revolt i found rachel s desperation and her fantasy maddening, and many aspects of their relationship, of all the relationships between rachel and the characters she comes into contact with, to be difficult, even soul destroying, all the because you can understand why these people are that way this is why, as a reader, as a woman, was grateful i had not fallen into the novel understanding rachel meant there was so much to be frustrated and feel trapped by, so much to resent, so much reason to be as rachel was, and nobody would want that but i held fast and margaret laurence rewarded me she shattered the fantasies and her character and my conceptions, and she laid those shards out in a different shape, and when i reached the end, i felt that she had led both her reader and rachel, still unlikeable, still bitter, still thinking things one would never say out loud, but still human for all that, into a place where something else was possible, where choices could be made, where change could come there are a few key scenes in the book that really shock you into appreciating rachel s emotional ignorance that i think the reader has to experience for themselves even though my mind immediately darts to them when i think about the book this is not a romance rachel is not a woman that will be rescued by love and i am grateful for that the relationship with nick is merely a spur and the action is just a backdrop for the exploration of the themes of duty, family, of life and death that laurence explores, and the bombshells that she drops.
at one point, rachel goes to the visit the man who took over her father s funeral parlour, and i think this is when she finally begins to gain clarity in discussing her father, she is stunned by another perspective, and a realization that some people might actually choose stasis or solitude, that it s not necessarily a by product of obligation.
i give the book five stars because while it s not really a pleasant experience, i can t deny how powerfully wrought it is laurence is really a consummate writer and plays her reader like a fiddle i do believe that it is harder to respect this work without remembering that it was written in 1966, and it has dated to some degree atwood argues differently in her afterword but she wrote that than twenty five years ago now some of it is, quite frankly, outrageous in a contemporary world but i cannot fault margaret laurence for this i believe novels like hers made it possible to help challenge contemporary minds of that era so that we could get to where we are now, and if we are cognizant of this as we read A Jest of God, we can appreciate it.