A Jest of God
1966 by McClelland & Stewart
I thought it was a book I had never heard of. Rachel, Rachel, it was called, wedged in the Margaret Laurence section of the secondhand bookstore.
Turns out, it was a reprint of A Jest of God, with an alternate title probably influenced by the film adaptation made in 1968. Though I’d heard of that book, the only Laurence I’d read were excerpts from A Bird in the House – which is my bad, considering Margaret Laurence is widely considered one of the great Canadian authors.
And for good reason: her style captured my interest immediately. Sharp, self-aware, and ironic. Rachel Cameron is a schoolteacher, and on the outside may seem reserved and agreeable – but inside, watch out. This isn’t your usual Little House on the Prairie family drama. Families are difficult to hold together, are restrictive. And in the end, it’s up to each person to choose what kind of person they want to be and what kind of life they want to live. Rachel makes mistakes, second guesses her choices, and is constantly being polite instead of stating her own opinion – until something happens that could only be a trick played on her by God. The story also explores sexuality, societal expectations and their effect on the individual, and the history of Ukrainian settlers in Canada.
Will definitely be reading more of Laurence in the future!