An interesting initiative from Head of Zeus publishing brings us Apollo: a collection of books that might have been known as classics, if the fashions of the times hadn’t relegated them to relative obscurity.
The idea is to give older works a new lease of life, and release them to an audience who otherwise almost certainly wouldn’t have read them.
Over the weekend, I picked up two of them – The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence, and The Hungry Grass by Richard Power – and took a look.
The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence
I really enjoyed this one. The book tells the story of Hagar Shipley, who is reaching the end of her life and is currently living in her own house, with her son Marvin and his wife Doris.
Hagar looks back over the life she has lived – the good, the bad and the brutally honest – and, as her mental faculties gradually fade, past seeps into present and all gets muddled.
It’s sensitively written, with a real appreciation for what it might feel like to be caught between then and now, and to not feel able to trust the people around you to follow your wishes.
Hagar is, in my view, a very likeable character precisely because she’s a bit crotchety and wholly imperfect. Too many novels that deal with the older generation do so simperingly, a sort of saccharine perspective that holds up the elderly as caricatures of old age, rather than rounded human beings with wants, needs and desires.
The Stone Angel is a lovely book, and certainly one I’d agree should have been a classic.
The Hungry Grass by Richard Power
The plotline for this book intrigued me: a group of priests considering the life of one of their number, the “spiky, difficult” Tom Conroy, after he dies suddenly at a seminary reunion.
And I quite liked it. It was one of those books that should be read on holiday – not a beach holiday, but the kind of holiday where you’ve rented a cottage in the middle of nowhere in Wales or Scotland (or indeed Ireland, where the book is set) and you’ve arrived in the pouring rain, which hasn’t let up ever since. And so, shivering a bit from the cold stones underfoot and from your own ineptitude with the open fire, which seemed so romantic in the ads, you riffle through the cupboards until, in a little sideboard, you find a book. You curl up in front of the fire with a big woolly blanket draped over yourself, and you read it.
That’s the kind of book it is. And I think if I’d read it in that setting, I would have liked it a great deal more. The story certainly has potential, but falls ever so slightly flat. The characters are interesting, but just not quite well-rounded enough to keep my attention piqued throughout.
As it was, I read it over the weekend, when my mind was half-thinking about work, and it just wasn’t quite gripping enough to slice through the brain-fog. I can see why it wasn’t a classic the first time round, but it doesn’t deserve to be forgotten. Instead, it should grace the little half-hidden shelves of obscure country cottages everywhere. 😉
A quick end note about the covers: I think they’re beautifully done. Just the right mixture of classic scenes in a slightly modernist style.