Review: The Diviners by Margaret Laurence

2017: 41
4 of 5 stars
Published 1974

Margaret Laurence is one of Canada’s most esteemed writers. The Diviners is one of 5 books that are about strong women living in or from small town Manitoba. Morag Gunn is the central figure in this book, an orphan that was brought up on the wrong side of the tracks in Manawaka by Prin and Christie who is the town scavenger. She always felt out of place and awkward, didn’t fit in and now, a successful writer in middle age, she is reflecting back on her life as she waits for and worries about her teenage daughter Pique who has taken off and gone to the west coast.

Snippets of Morag’s life are told as if watching a home movie or reading an excerpt from a journal and include Christie’s tall stories, her love affairs, her marriage and other episodes from her life as she matches snapshots to those memories. I think it’s about finding your place in life, both in middle age and when you’re young. Experiences that shape you and show you what you want and don’t want. Morag has to let Pique find out her own way, too, just as she had to.

The book is filled with colourful characters and Laurence’s dialogue and descriptions are a joy to read.

This has been a controversial book and has been challenged many times over the years. It’s hard to imagine why in this day and age but when it was written, in the mid 70s, it was unconventional to show a woman opting to have and raise a child on her own, having casual sexual encounters and affairs, sometimes with married men. A strong woman, bucking the conventions of society, using strong language, is not to be encouraged, or so it is said. I think Ms. Laurence was definitely ahead of her time though it was written in the early days of modern feminism, or women’s liberation as we all called it back then. It’s a wonderful book and definitely worth reading.


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