Margaret Laurence’s technique in The Diviners is as ambitious as her plot. The novel is divided into five sections, the first of which, “River of Now and Then,” introduces her grand theme: “The river flowed both ways. The current moved from north to south, but the wind usually came from the south, rippling the bronze-green water in the opposite direction.” The end of the narrative elaborates the metaphor to emphasize the truth that Morag finally divines—that life, like literature, is a continuum formulated by the interplay of past and present, fact and imagination:The waters flowed from north to south, and the current was visible, but now a south wind was blowing, ruffling the water in the opposite direction, so that the river, as so often here, seemed to be flowing both ways. Look ahead into the past, and back into the future, until the silence.

In a sense Laurence’s epic, like James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (1939), begins where it ends, as Morag returns to the novel she was writing when the narrative opened: “Morag returned to the house, to write the remaining private and fictional words, and to set down her title.” The title of Morag’s book, plainly, will be The Diviners.

“River of Now and Then” also introduces Laurence’s innovative techniques for relating Morag’s story. The first of these, called “Snapshots,” are pseudodocumentary renderings of Morag’s past whose obvious artificiality draws attention to her powers of fiction making....

(The entire section is 625 words.)