Book Review: Stockbridge author's 'Gabriel' is deeply spiritual
Posted Friday, July 13, 2018 3:42 pm
By Colin Harrington, Eagle correspondent
"Gabriel, or The Long Love Affair of The Virgin Mary: A Modern Tale of Alchemy" by Micheline Laguilhomie of Stockbridge is the tale of one Laure Saint-Guilhem.
This faithful memoir is brilliantly translated from the French by the author, giving a spiritually Proustian narrative. Every aspect of the character's life, from age 4 in France and later her modern adulthood in America, is richly remembered with clarity and precision, highlighting a complete portrait of personalities, scenes and situations.
From earliest childhood memories (Saint-Guilhem was born 1925 in Paris) to the present, this is an important first-hand telling of French culture, Nazi occupation of France and Liberation, and perhaps more uniquely, an astute European encounter with American culture, laws and values. In particular, there is Saint-Guilhem's courageous championing of wider views on education in her own teaching career and in her advocacy meeting her daughter's educational needs. She later begins her successful career translating with A.S. Neil's "Summerhill" into French. Laguilhomie tells it all with frank and honest viewpoints that chronicle life in France and America.
From earliest encounters with authority and the interpersonal dynamics of family, love, friendship, career and politics, Saint-Guilhem is a highly intelligent and self-assured individual with a sharp eye and depth of feeling for the nature of things. She is opinionated, yet vulnerable to the power of dreams, dedicated to the philosophy of Albert Camus and guided by a confluence of mythologies, such as the essential Virgin Mary in her personal stories of love and life, but especially the revelations of C.G. Jung in how the human soul finds its own way.
Saint-Guilhem cannot help but live life intensely and with conviction. Her adventures are full of powerful encounters, such as an uncanny doppelganger of herself on a transatlantic crossing that quite unexpectedly visits her with an ideal love. But Saint-Guilhem is also analytical in her every experience and she holds fast to a sense of justice, always willing to stand her ground.
It is a deeply spiritual book where the author has created a character of uncommon seriousness, bonded to the truth, and a creative vision that drives her passionate embrace of life.
This is at the heart of the metaphor of The Virgin Mary of the title. From an early age, Saint-Guilhem is guided by the mythologies and idealism of characters in the Bible, as well as Tristan and Isolde, and heroes like Joan of Arc. But from the beginning, between two bites of an unripe apple, a biblical storybook in her hand, Saint-Guilhem has a most profound vision of the Archangel Gabriel and is instantly and completely transformed. In this transformation, she forms a personal ideal of love that stays with her in every romance of her life. It is also the instant that she becomes a "rebel" in that Saint-Guilhem is then ordained to apply her own flawless philosophical interpretations of both the biblical icons and the real life players of her story. It is in the most detailed memories of a spirited early life in France of another era, the transatlantic odysseys to America and a very modern encounter with this country, that every story is filled with true romance, personal and public drama, and from start to finish, a fascinating connection and relationship with the spirit world of angels.
Colin Harrington is the events manager at The Bookstore & Get Lit Wine Bar in Lenox. He welcomes reader comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.