Poor Hagar. Poor angel monument for Hagar's mother. Both are laid open to scorn because of their flaws - their lack of vision (the monument has blank eyes), their age, their inflexible stoniness. I'm rather grateful I come late to this major novel. As a younger woman, I probably would not have understood how easy it is to withdraw into the shell of your own view of the world, misunderstanding how badly you can hurt others by failing to pay attention to them and their needs. And, as a reader and a person, I certainly would not have understood how it is possible still to love and care for a person despite all that harm, as Hagar's son and daughter-in-law do.
'"She's a holy terror," he [Marvin, her son] says.
Listening, I feel like it is more than I could now reasonably have expected out of life, for he has spoken with such anger and such tenderness.
I love Hagar's gumption. I love how certain she is of her point of view, even when she's wrong. I love how she simply assumes she will cope, no matter what. And I love how Laurence was able to get inside an old person's head - rather as Richler did, in Barney's Version - showing (though with less intensity) the memory-testing, the resentment of failing powers, the baleful awareness of the indignities of the traitorous body.
And right to the last, Hagar wrenches the water out of her daughter-in-law's nursing hand, convinced she can hold it better. She's not a character who dies easily, either in her world or in our memory.
There will be more Margaret Laurence in my reading future.