Saturday, October 22, 2011

Books: Intimate Strangers

Intimate Strangers: The letters of Margaret Laurence & Gabrielle Roy is a lovely little book which affords a personal and touching glimpse into the lives of two of Canada’s most respected and loved authors.

Laurence and Roy had never met when they began corresponding in 1976. Laurence humbly initiated the correspondence after hearing that Roy was interested in meeting her. The connection between the two authors was immediate.

Though Roy was 15 years older than Laurence, both writers were in a similar position when they began writing. Laurence had just received the Governor General’s Award for The Diviners and Roy was would receive the same award, French category, a few years later for Ces enfants de ma vie.

Yet despite their success as authors, both women were struggling with the realization that their creative energies were being drained by various demands and weakening health. Laurence in particular was very saddened that she could not write another novel. “I still have not found my way into the novel I want to write,” she writes. “Patience is difficult for me, and I am fed up with making false starts at it.”

Roy encourages her friend. “Don’t tear up the pages of your new book. Let them rest away from your eyes for some time.”

In addition to sharing their challenges as writers, the women share in their letters a love of the prairies from which they both came (both were born in Manitoba), their shared affection for rivers and nature, and their concerns about Canadian and Quebec politics.

Laurence and Roy met only once – at a conference in Calgary two years after their correspondence began. Yet their friendship deepened through their letters and their mutual respect of each other’s writing. Much of the correspondence is filled with thoughtful praise of the other’s work. When the French translation of Laurence’s The Diviners came out in 1980, Roy was quick to assure her that the translation was true. “You can rest your mind, dear Marguerite, [the translations] are done with uncanny feeling and talent.”

Intimate Strangers is a book of only 32 letters, yet is rich in its depth, sincerity and wisdom. I feel privileged to have read it.

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