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Reviewed by:
  • Intimate Strangers: The Letters of Margaret Laurence and Gabrielle Roy
  • Russell Morton Brown
Paul G. Socken , editor. Intimate Strangers: The Letters of Margaret Laurence and Gabrielle Roy. University of Manitoba Press 2004. xvi, 104. $18.95

Margaret Laurence had not yet met Gabrielle Roy when she initiated this correspondence in 1976, writing to tell her that she had long admired her work and that she 'shared something of that Manitoba background and could understand and feel it so well.' This small book, which becomes the fourth published volume of Laurence's correspondence and the fourth of Roy's, contains the thirty-two letters we have from their exchange. Roy's letter-writing is not on its best display here: her letters to Laurence are warm but rather brief, perhaps because of declining energy and health. The essential volume for English-speaking readers has become her exchange with her translator Joyce Marshall, published last year, while her personal, intellectual, and aesthetic dimensions are more broadly displayed in two earlier books: the collection of letters between Roy and her older sister published in 1988 (and later translated into English) and the volume of letters between Roy and husband published in 2001. Readers interested in Laurence's letters should start with those to Canadian writers in J.A. Wainwright's 1995 edition. (Fifteen of Laurence's eighteen letters to Roy were previously published there, two of them substantially abridged.) For a full sense of Laurence the letter-writer in dialogue, two sizable volumes are already on offer: the letters she and Al Purdy exchanged (1993) and [End Page 383] the illuminating volume that collects her lifelong written conversation with Adele Wiseman (1997). Letters were important to these writers, whom Laurence described as members of a tribe. In contrast to our brief and breezy email, they were a thoughtful communication now left behind.

Volumes such as the Laurence–Roy letters are a particular pleasure because both sides of the dialogue are present. Here, the two chat about their work: Roy continues to be productive, while Laurence, feeling blocked, writes book reviews, always a chore; edits her essays; begins and destroys manuscripts of a novel that will never come to fruition; and seems relieved to turn to children's books. They also touch on current events such as Quebec politics and they record the small details of everyday observation.

In her last letter, written in 1980, Roy chides her friend: 'Don't tear up the pages of your new book. Let them rest away from your eyes for some time. Somehow you might get a pleasant surprise if you look at them after a few months. Occasionally that has happened to me.' Laurence ignores the advice but replies by sending her a recovered Christmas story written for the children of her church and long thought lost. Three years will pass before a final letter from Laurence, which closes this correspondence and this book. Writing not long before Roy's death, she sends her the valedictory that any writer would cherish: 'I love you so much, always, for what you have given me in your writing, and I take courage from you.'

Russell Morton Brown
Russell Morton Brown, Department of Humanities, University of Toronto at Scarborough


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pp. 383-384
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