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A Jest of God (Manawaka Sequence)

3.92  ·  Rating Details ·  2,087 Ratings  ·  70 Reviews
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 world.

Trapped 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
Paperback, 240 pages
Published December 1st 2008 by New Canadian Library (first published 1966)
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Sep 22, 2013 Maureen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
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? more? 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 becaus ...more
Rebecca Foster
(3.5) 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 unforgett
Elizabeth (Alaska)
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 more 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 leas
Jul 06, 2008 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Canadian Fiction Fans, Love Stories
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
Dorothyanne Brown
I was raised in the US and had little introduction to Laurence except through the Diviners, which I remembered primarily because of the sperm stain on the woman's dress. (I led a sheltered life and was shocked about that). And when I read The Stone Angel, I was too young to appreciate the feelings therein. And, sorry to say, high school English ruined it for me.
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, total
Nov 04, 2012 Erin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 con ...more
Aug 26, 2008 Sue rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book disturbed me at many levels. It was excellently written. The story of a very uptight "spinster" in the mid sixties who was a bit of a nervous nellie evoked some emotion in me as this woman reminded me a lot of certain women in my life. I was able to understand some of the reasons why this "type" of women acts the way she does, and I'm not sure I am totally happy with the answer. It was a really good read, though, for all that. I'm glad I read it.
Apr 24, 2013 Krista rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013, can-con, classics
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
❀ Susan G
Jan 23, 2017 ❀ Susan G rated it really liked it

As a highschool student, I am not sure that I appreciated reading The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence. I missed the depth and the character development of Hagar, only understanding and reflecting the story when reading it for the second time, as an adult. This past summer, I read The Diviners as part of a monthly group read and have picked up A Jest of God as part of my CanadianContent Bingo Challenge.

This novel was ahead of its time in 1966 which speaks
Mar 23, 2009 Veronica rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mooched, fiction
Excruciating. This novel is narrated by repressed thirty-something schoolteacher Rachel, living in Manawaka with her ailing, manipulative mother. Rachel is the first-person "unreliable narrator" in similar vein to the narrator of Zoe Heller's Notes on a Scandal. Hopelessly shy and self-obsessed, Rachel is still a virgin, dreaming of love and cursing her mother's constant harping on "what other people will think", even though she herself is haunted by exactly the same concerns. When she meets Nic ...more
Lorri Steinbacher
Nov 13, 2012 Lorri Steinbacher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow. What a sad book. Maybe not completely sad. I certainly felt discomfited by Rachel's inability to get out of her own way. Disheartened by how easily she talked herself into being disheartened. How every sliver of hope life presented to her or that she allowed herself to dream was squashed by her insecurity and by her mother's neurosis and self-absorption. (view spoiler) ...more
Sandra Willey
Ah, the star rating system. Cheap and easy, unlike this book. I have reserved 5 stars for the life-changers, the elite, those books that hold up to a reading/decade and continue to blossom and unfold. I've given To Kill a Mocking Bird a marginal 5; Cry the Beloved Country a solid one. Having said that, A Jest of God is not in the same league with my 4's, but I don't like leaving it down with the 3's. It's better than that. Laurence can write. She can handle language and characters. The intriguin ...more
Daniel Kukwa
May 31, 2013 Daniel Kukwa rated it it was ok
Shelves: canadian-lit
For approximately four-fifths of this novel, I had "Jane Eyre" syndrome: all I could do was scream at the protagonist to "GET A LIFE...GROW A SPINE...FIGHT BACK AND ASSERT YOURSELF!" It was extremely well-written and realistic...but it drove me completely crazy. I just wanted to slap the main character with a fish until she grabbed hold of the reins of her life -- it lasted far too long for my taste, and I almost gave up on the sheer relentless self-pity & self-loathing. The final chapter re ...more
Nov 16, 2008 Teresa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very good, well-written novel with wonderful character development. It only seems dated perhaps in that sexual mores had not changed yet in this time period and in this small town -- which is one of the themes of the novel. But the inner life of this lonely 34-year-old woman is not dated and her unarticulated emotions and feelings are easily understood. And, oh, those conversations she has with her mother! They are so real as to be almost painful. I look forward to reading more by Laur ...more
Jun 12, 2015 Anna rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not as alluring as her other books in the Manawaka series. This was too much navel-gazing, too much of a neurotic woman slowly losing and it and then pulling herself out in some miraculous final act. If you like the typical Canadian writing, in which all you read is from an anxious woman's perspective, then dive in. If not, go to Laurence's other works in the series.
Bradley Sykes
Dec 22, 2013 Bradley Sykes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My reading of the book became disjointed in the beginning and I wasn't sure of how much I was getting into Rachel's world. But surely, through Laurence's fantastic and incisive prose, Rachel's rather neurotic mind, charmingly subjugated character, and ultimate growth become a very rich, engrossing story indeed.
The pathos of the main character, Rachel Cameron, was palpable. I almost couldn't stand reading it. It's like being with that friend who sucks your energy dry. Yet, Margaret Laurence has created characters that felt real and for that, I gave the book 4 stars.
Dec 06, 2009 Vionna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rachel is trying to find her way out of despair, possibly madness. She is shackled to an overbearing mother who victimizes her at every turn. She struggles to find a better and finally does. Very sensitively written.
Aug 31, 2015 Allison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While at times extremely dull, this is the kind of book that sticks with you long after you're done, earning itself merit as you find yourself reflecting on Rachel's struggles months afterward.
Aug 18, 2015 Ross rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An egg of a book: whole and complete. Every sentence serves a purpose.
Apr 30, 2016 Mj rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Short Version

Margaret Laurence is a great writer. Her style varies from simple and sparse to detailed, fresh and descriptive. She also writes about things going on both inside a character’s head and outside in life, so one gets a more insightful understanding of the characters. In this case, Laurence focuses primarily on the main character named Rachel – a young woman in her mid thirties who has never married and still lives at home with her widowed mother.

The dreams and longings of Rachel a
Feb 23, 2014 C. rated it liked it
My reaction is lacklustre but I appreciated the feverish musing and originality of “A Jest Of God”, 1966. ‘Rachel’ is down to Earth but I can’t fathom anyone so spineless or inanely self-doubting. I reject a languid demeanour, while one is raging over scenarios that are bothersome. Her mother isn’t outwardly dominating, thus I can’t fathom Rachel regularly giving into baseless guilt trips. A thirty-four year-old need not apologize for walking to a store, accepting an outing with peers, nor make ...more
Lindsay Munroe
Feb 21, 2017 Lindsay Munroe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Review on
Nov 03, 2012 Debbie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another classic of Canadian literature and a huge disappointment for me as a fan of Margaret Laurence whose Stone Angel is one of my favourite books.

A Jest of God follows Rachel Cameron, a 34-year-old spinster school teacher in the small prairie town of Manawaka. Because it’s told in the first person from Rachel’s view, we are privy to Rachel’s thoughts. For most of the book there is a wide discrepancy between what Rachel is in her visible public life, how she deals with and appears to others, a
Apr 18, 2015 Becky rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've never been disappointed by Margaret Laurence. I find her characters raw, real and honest. This book was no exception. My hair stood on end as I read about Rachel, a woman leading a life in an alternate (not so distant) future of my own. Never before have I seen such an honest portrayal of anxiety disorders. For some, Rachel will appear spineless, pathetic and hard to believe. For others who have experienced or are very close to someone with an anxiety disorder, Rachel's personality becomes ...more
Thirty-four-old school teacher Rachel Cameron is living a quiet life with her mother in the small Manitoba town of Manawaka. It’s not a town where much happens and when it does, everyone knows. The return of an old school friend, Nick Kazlik, adds some spark to Rachel’s life, but these are the early 60’s, a time where proper women do not follow through on their deepest wishes and needs without repercussions. Rachel embarks on an affair with Nick, her heart and body telling her that this is right ...more
Jan 03, 2009 Discoverylover marked it as released-or-to-release-without-read  ·  review of another edition
"A thirty-four-year-old school teacher living with her mother, Rachel Cameron feels trapped in an environment of small-town deceit and pettiness--her own and that of others. She longs for contact with another human being who shares her rebellious spirit. Finally, by confronting both love and death, Rachel earns the freedom she desperately needs.

Winner of the Governor General's Literary Award, A Jest of God was also the basis of the movie Rachel, Rachel. "Mrs. Laurence tells [her story] unsparin
Jim Puskas
Aug 04, 2013 Jim Puskas rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: human-relations
I think this will be the last of Laurence's books I will read. Well written, to be sure but in the end, depressing. Rachel, a 34 year old spinster Grade Two teacher (how predictably tiresome is that?) lives a life of quiet desperation, tyrannized by her petty-minded Principal and her guilt-tripping mother. She finally meets a man who manages to awaken her sexually (sort of) but who(probably realizing what a hopeless case she is) leaves town without so much as a phone call. The only interesting a ...more
Kris - My Novelesque Life

"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 world.

Trapped 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 pe
Feb 20, 2015 Chavonne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Yet again, Laurence offers a coming-of-age tale of a woman and not a girl (there is a distinct difference to me). The protagonist is Rachel Cameron, a 34 year-old schoolteacher who's never married and lives in her hometown caring for ailing mother. She is nervous and fearful and constantly tormented by her employer and mother (in the form of simpering, snide remarks). Most of the novel takes place during a summer when she falls head over heels for a man and the affair changes everything. Rachel ...more
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Margaret Laurence was born Jean Margaret Wemyss on July 18, 1926 in the prairie town of Neepawa, Manitoba, Canada. Both of her parents passed away in her childhood, and Laurence was raised by her aunt and maternal grandfather.

Laurence decided in childhood that she wanted to be a writer, and began writing stories in elementary school. Her professional writing career began in 1943 with a job at the
More about Margaret Laurence...

Other Books in the Series

Manawaka Sequence (5 books)
  • The Stone Angel
  • The Fire-Dwellers
  • A Bird in the House
  • The Diviners

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“Where I'm going, anything may happen. Nothing may happen. Maybe I will marry a middle-aged widower, or a longshoreman, or a cattle-hoof-trimmer, or a barrister or a thief. And have my children in time. Or maybe not. Most of the chances are against it. But not, I think, quite all. What will happen? What will happen. It may be that my children will always be temporary, never to be held. But so are everyone's.

I may become, in time, slightly more eccentric all the time. I may begin to wear outlandish hats, feathered and sequinned and rosetted, and dangling necklaces made from coy and tiny seashells which I've gathered myself along the beach and painted coral-pink with nail polish. And all the kids will laugh, and I'll laugh, too, in time. I will be light and straight as any feather. The wind will bear me, and I will drift and settle, and drift and settle. Anything may happen, where I'm going.”
“Nothing is clear now. Something must be the matter with my way of viewing things. I have no middle view. Either I fix on a detail and see it as thought it were magnified -- a leaf with all its veins perceived, the fine hairs on a man's hands -- or else the world recedes and becomes blurred, artificial, indefinite, an abstract painting of a world. The darkening sky is hugely blue, gashed with rose, blood, flame from the volcano or wound or flower of the lowering sun. The wavering green, the sea of grass, piercingly bright. Black tree trunks, contorted, arching over the river.” 3 likes
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