There’s Something About Alice Munro

I’ve recently become a fan of Alice Munro’s. I suppose I feel a connection. She’s Canadian, I’m Canadian. She’s a writer, I’m a writer. She owned Munro’s Books in Victoria, B.C. and I bought books there when I was growing up. She won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature, I…well…I didn’t.

To be honest, I’ve only just discovered Alice. In fact I just read my first Alice Munro book: Lives of Girls and Women.

Oh, to write like Alice! Sentences are complex, yet, oh so easy to read. Lives of Girls and Women is fiction, about a young girl, Del Jordan, growing up in small-town Ontario. Munro writes about subjects that most people would overlook, would think too ordinary to be interesting. She turns the ordinary into the extraordinary, such as when Del comes across a dead cow in a field:

“The eye was wide open, dark, a smooth sightless bulge, with a sheen like silk and a reddish gleam in it, a reflection of light. An orange stuffed in a black silk stocking. Flies nestled in one corner, bunched together beautifully in an iridescent brooch.”

And Munro writes with such truth:

“I had a great desire to poke the eye with my stick, to see if it would collapse, if it would quiver and break like a jelly, showing itself to be the same…I traced the stick all the way round the eye, I drew it back––but I was not able, I could not poke it in.”

And Munro’s mind flows in unusual but intriguing ways. In the same chapter that Del looks upon the dead cow, she also looks upon her dead Uncle, lying in wake:

“The eyelids lay too lightly on his eyes, the grooves and creases on his face had grown too shallow. He himself was wiped out; this face was like a delicate mask of skin, varnished, and laid over the real face–or over nothing at all, ready to crack when you poked a finger into it. I did have this impulse, but at a level far, far removed from possibility, just as you might have an impulse to touch a live wire.”

Throughout the book I wondered – is this really fiction? The details, the dialogue, the inner thoughts – it all seems too real. One line really stands out, and though it is Del talking, I am sure that this must be a quote from Munro herself:

“They were talking to somebody who believed that the only duty of a writer is to produce a masterpiece.”

I came across this interview with Alice Munro, where she talks about becoming a writer, the excitement and disappointment of writing stories, and what she hopes readers feel when they read her stories. Please, find yourself half an hour, grab a cup of tea and a comfy chair and enjoy the endearing Ms. Munro. It’s well worth it: Alice Munroe in her own words

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Alice Munro Wins Nobel Prize in Literature

“I can’t play bridge. I don’t play tennis. All those things that people learn, and I admire, there hasn’t seemed time for. But what there is time for is looking out the window.” Alice Munro

What a thrill to wake up today and see that fellow Canadian, Alice Munro has won the Nobel Prize in Literature as “master of the contemporary short story”. Her stories usually revolve around life in rural southern Ontario, where she grew up, and coming-of-age struggles.

Have you read any of her stories? Wondering what to read?

Dance of the Happy Shades – her first collection of short stories and winner of the 1968 Governor General’s Award for Fiction.

Who Do You Think You Are – 1978 winner of the Governor General’s Award for English Fiction. Published outside of Canada as The Beggar Maid.

The Love of a Good Woman –1998 Giller Prize Winner.

Runaway – 2004 Giller Prize Winner.

Dear Life – Her most recent collection, published in 2012, and apparently her last, as Munro has said that she will retire from writing. She is 82 years old. Dear Life was awarded the Trillium Book Award.

Alice Munro also won the Man Booker International Prize in 2009 for her lifetime body of work. Watch the announcement of Munro winning the Nobel Prize here.