Alice Munro is my favourite living short story writer, and this collection does not disappoint except, strangely for the long title story. Unlike the other contemporary pieces, this one is set in the nineteenth century and centres on the real-life Sophia Kovalevsky, a Russian mathematician and novelist. The story simply did not come to life for me, and it seems out of place among the rest of the collection, though Munro clearly wants to draw attention to it through the title. Other readers may be entirely captivated by the romantic complications Sophia faces; I am perfectly ready to accept that the fault is my own, but all criticism is subjective.
The other stories are set in familiar Munro territory - in and around Ontario, focusing on small lives - but nothing is ever quite familiar with this writer, who has the unerring ability to unsettle us, often by examining the brittleness of relationships, sometimes by the placing of quirky incidents in seemingly ordinary circumstancess, as here in the story 'Wenlock Edge' where a student takes her friend's usual place as a solitary guest in a wealthy man's home and is invited, quite coolly and charmingly, to dine with him completely naked. Equally oddly, she complies, without knowing why, and nothing happens - the man continues conversational and correct throughout the meal. The perverse strangeness of it reminded me of Pip's visits to Miss Havisham in 'Great Expectations'.
I believe Miss Munro has said this will be her last book. She is 75, but I do hope there's more to come from her yet. As readers of her work, we can't have too much happiness.
This review is by David Williams writerinthenorth