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Not her best
on 28 December 2013
Although this collection of 14 short stories helped Alice Munro win the Nobel Prize for literature, and the cover of my edition says `Winner of The Man Booker International Prize', this is misleading. Both awards are recognition for a long history of great writing. And fair enough, who can argue with that? But they don't apply specifically to these latest works, which I don't rate as highly as some of her earlier collections.
As with most of Alice Munro's work, we cover long periods of time in a short space, usually with a quick summing up at the end, the main theme being, I suppose, how lives change; birth, sex and death.
Most of the stories are set around the end of the Second World War, some a little later, and one thing that struck me, about some of them at least, was the way the main female character was so easily led into a sexual relationship by a man who was clearly taking advantage of her, as if she had no say in the matter. (I'm thinking here especially of the second story, Amundsen, but it applies to the first one as well, and several others too). Perhaps this is the author's point; that women were badly treated by domineering men even more in those days than they are now, and they sometimes submitted without apparent protest.
My main criticism is that some of these stories require the reader to believe in unlikely events, without actually making them seem believable. Short tories don't give much scope for things such as plot and character development, so there's a risk that they just seem like a pointless attempt at a bit of drama; someone dies unexpectedly, but so what? It's only fiction. We aren't given the chance to really get involved, so why should we care?
Another minor point is that some of these stories are written in the first person, yet we never get to know much about the various narrators; I assumed always that they were female, because they mostly are and of course the author is a woman, but then one story, we discover near the end, is narrated by a man, which threw me a bit.
The final four stories in this collection are autobiographical in nature, and although this might make them of interest to some, I found them fairly tame compared to the fictional stuff. But there again, it's all very well written and easy to read. Just don't expect to become engrossed, as you might with a good novel.