August 14, 2010

The Diviners - Margaret Laurence

I read my way through the Manawaka books by Margaret Laurence the summer that I was 17, living in Rivière du Loup, Québec, staying with a family and learning French. If I had had easy access to any other books in English, I probably would have given up after The Stone Angel as I detested that book, but fortunately I persevered and each book got better (in my opinion) so by the time I reached The Diviners, I quite enjoyed it.

I have not re-read any of these books in the past 16 years, but The Diviners has been on my "to be re-read" list for a while and I finally picked it up this week. And I am glad that I did! Looking back at my 17-year-old self, I'm sure that lots of this book (and probably the others in the series) went right over my head, but I thoroughly enjoyed this re-read.

How to summarize this book in a paragraph? Now there is a challenge. Morag Gunn is born in small-town Manitoba; loses her parents at a young age; is brought up by the town scavenger (garbage collector) and his dim wife; goes to university in Winnipeg vowing to escape the life she has grown up in; marries her professor; becomes a writer; leaves her husband; has a baby with a childhood friend/lover; raises the baby on her own in Vancouver, London (England), and finally McConnell's Landing (rural southern Ontario). It is her search to find herself - where she has come from and where she wants to go.

I found myself really relating to Morag on this re-reading. Loved in her own family but socially awkward outside of home; moving from place to place in search of "home"; introverted and living inside her head. There is a great scene where Morag learns to cry in front of others - that was also a difficult lesson for me to learn. And a time where her daughter tells her, "You're so goddamn proud and so scared of being rejected," that hit home for me as well.

I went looking for an image of the cover of the edition that I was reading (Banatam, 1975 - Mum must have bought it when it first came out in paperback), but couldn't find it. But along the way, I learned a bit about Margaret Laurence, and discovered that a lot of this book was autobiographical - born in small-town Manitoba; loss of parents when young; early writing career; worked at a newspaper; university in Winnipeg; married then separated from her husband; living in Vancouver, England, Toronto, and rural southern Ontario. There is even an element of the predictive in this book as Jules, Morag's sometimes-lover, commits suicide when he has terminal cancer - Margaret Laurence did the same in 1987.

So a good book, yes; but I don't know if that will inspire me to go back and re-read the rest of the series!

9 comments:

Buried In Print said...

I'm due for a re-read of her works as well; this one is definitely amongst my favourites. I came across a biography of her recently that I suspect you might enjoy even more than I did: my review is here.

Kate said...

Buried in Print - that biography looks very interesting. I checked our local library website, but they don't have a copy - I may need to pay them a visit to see if they can get it on inter-library loan...

Em said...

I bought this book in June and intend to read it as an introduction to Laurence's writing. Your review is actually quite encouraging.
That predictive bit is quite creepy; although I believe it makes sense...

Suzanne said...

I'm ashamed to admit that I've not read any Margaret Laurence novels but I've picked up The Diviners and The Stone Angel to read for the Canadian Book Challenge. The Diviners sounds like a good one to start with. Thanks for the post.

Kate said...

Em - I'm curious to know what you think of the book once you've read it!

Suzanne - The Diviners is actually the last Manawaka book (The Stone Angel is the first), but it stands alone quite well. Some of the characters from the earlier books pop up in the Diviners, but you don't need to know that, or their stories, in order to enjoy it.

P-A-McGoldrick said...

Interesting to read about Margaret Laurence.
I, too, read The Stone Angel at a teen age and I was way too young to understand. I re-read it 20 years later and understood much more about the story.
One of the best sources, I have found, for understanding Margaret Laurence, is her essay "Where My World Began". It set me on a new pathway of understanding for myself and my writing. I have recommended it to many. You can find it at http://www.hrhs.ca/English%2031A/Essays/Where%20the%20world%20began.doc . It is worth a read, and a re-read! Enjoy!

Kate said...

P-A-McGoldrick - Unfortunately your whole link didn't come thorough on my comments section - the essay can be found here. Very interesting - you can see a lot of echoes of these thoughts in her novels. And I definitely agree with her about how the Canadian landscape resonates with her more than anywhere else in the world. I have lived in Africa and traveled to many more places around the world, but there is nowhere like Canada!

Wanda said...

Glad to hear you enjoyed the re-read. The Diviners is my favourite among the Manawaka series. I think probably my favourite book, period.

Kate said...

Wanda - interesting that it may be your favourite book ever. I'm going to be visiting Dad at Thanksgiving, so may check to see if he still has Mum's copies of the rest of the series to bring back here for re-reading.