Here’s the not-so-very- helpful blurb for Canadian writer Margaret Lawrence’s most popular book: ” Stubborn, querulous, self-reliant – and, at ninety, with her life nearly behind her – Hagar Shipley makes a bold last step towards freedom and independence.
As her story unfolds, we are drawn into her past. We meet Hagar as a young girl growing up in a black prairie town; as the wife of a virile but unsuccessful farmer with whom her marriage was stormy; as a mother who dominates her younger son; and, finally, as an old woman isolated by an uncompromising pride and by the stern virtues she has inherited from her pioneer ancestors.”
I really enjoyed this book, but due to my attention span and the memory recall of a gnat, I have already forgotten what it is about, and that blurb did not help one little tiny bit, so let’s see if I can do better for you.
This novel moves back and forth in time, tracing the life of Hagar Shipley, born Hagar Currie in the Canadian prairie town of Manawaka. Hagar is a crotchety 90-year old currently living with her son, Marvin, and daughter-in-law, Doris. As she faces the end of her life, she reflects with some regret upon her relationships with her father, brothers, husband and sons. Although she could be judgmental, stubborn and prideful, her hardscrabble life on the prairie was a gut-wrenching tale at times.
For the reader, the story evokes part pearl-clutching, part horror, part laughter. Some of the humor comes from her private thoughts of her daughter-in-law, that hard-burdened woman who has spent many years now caring for the grouchy, ungrateful mother-in-law, and some of the humor arises from situations themselves.
Hagar is deeply afraid of being put in a nursing home, and at one point, runs away from home to stay in a vacant lodge by a lakeside she only vaguely remembers. She manages to survive overnight before her hard-pressed son finds her and brings her home, and we all can’t but be admiring of an independent woman who chooses a daring adventure over prudence.
Her backstory is riveting, and goes far in explaining her attitude and outlook.
What a wonderful book. Although it is principally character driven, there is plenty of plot action in the back story to satisfy those readers who prefer action over musings.