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Carried Away: A Personal Selection of Stories (Anglais) Relié – 26 septembre 2006

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Excerpted from the Introduction

Alice Munro is among the major writers of English fiction of our time. She’s been accorded armfuls of super-superlatives by critics in both North America and the United Kingdom, she’s won many awards, and she has a devoted international readership. Among writers themselves, her name is spoken in hushed tones. Most recently she’s been used as a stick to flog the enemy with, in various inter-writerly combats. ‘‘You call this writing?’’ the floggers say, in effect. ‘‘Alice Munro! Now that’s writing!’’ She’s the kind of writer about whom it is often said – no matter how well-known she becomes – that she ought to be better known.

None of this happened overnight. Alice Munro has been writing since the 1960s, and her first collection – Dance of the Happy Shades – appeared in 1968. To date – and including her latest, the rapturously-received Runaway (2004) – she has published ten collections, averaging nine or ten stories each. Though her fiction has been a regular feature of The New Yorker since the 1970s, her recent elevation to international literary sainthood took as long as it did partly because of the form in which she writes. She is a writer of stories – ‘‘short stories,’’ as they used to be called, or ‘‘short fiction,’’ which is now  more common.

Though many American and British and Canadian writers of the first rank have practised this form, there is still a widespread but false tendency to equate length with importance. Thus Alice Munro has been among those writers subject to periodic rediscovery, at least outside Canada. It’s as if she jumps out of a cake – Surprise! – and then has to jump out of it again, and then again. Readers don’t see her name in lights on every billboard. They come across her as if by accident or fate, and are drawn in, and then there is an outbreak of wonder and excitement, and incredulity – Where did Alice Munro come from? Why didn’t anybody tell me? How can such excellence have sprung from nowhere?


But Alice Munro did not spring from nowhere. She sprang –though it’s a verb her characters would find overly sprightly, and indeed pretentious – from Huron County, in south-western Ontario.

Ontario is the large province of Canada that stretches from the Ottawa River to the western end of Lake Superior. This is a huge and varied space, but south-western Ontario is a distinct part of it. It was named Sowesto by the painter Greg Curnoe, a name that has stuck. Curnoe’s view was that Sowesto was an area of considerable interest, but also of considerable psychic murkiness and oddity, a view shared by many. Robertson Davies, also from Sowesto, used to say, ‘‘I know the dark folkways of my people,’’ and Alice Munro knows them, too. You are likely to run into quite a few signs in Sowesto wheat fields telling you to be prepared to meet your God, or else your doom – felt to be much the same thing.

Lake Huron lies at the western edge of Sowesto, Lake Erie to the south. The country is mostly flat farmland, cut by several wide, winding rivers prone to flooding, and on the rivers –because of the available boat transport, and the power provided by water-driven mills – a number of smaller and larger towns grew up in the nineteenth century. Each has its red-brick town hall (usually with a tower), each its post-office building and its handful of churches of various denominations, each its main street and its residential section of gracious homes, and its other residential section on the wrong side of the tracks. Each has its families with long memories and stashes of bones in the closets.

Sowesto contains the site of the famous Donnelly Massacre of the nineteenth century, when a large family was slaughtered and their home burnt as a result of political resentments carried over from Ireland. Lush nature, repressed emotions, respectable fronts, hidden sexual excesses, outbreaks of violence, lurid crimes, long-held grudges, strange rumours – none are ever far away in Munro’s Sowesto, partly because all have been provided by the real life of the region itself.

Oddly enough, a number of writers have come from Sowesto. Oddly, because when Alice Munro was growing up in the 1930s and ’40s, the idea of a person from Canada – but especially one from small-town south-western Ontario – thinking they could be a writer to be taken seriously in the world at large was laughable. Even by the ’50s and ’60s there were very few publishers in Canada, and these were mostly textbook  publishers who imported whatever so-called literature was to be had from England and the United States. There might be some amateur theatre – high-school performances, Little Theatre groups. There was, however, the radio, and in the ’60s Alice Munro got her start through a CBC programme called Anthology, produced
by Robert Weaver.

But very few Canadian writers of any sort were known to an international readership, and it was taken for granted that if you had hankerings of that kind – hankerings about which you would of course feel defensive and ashamed, because art was not something a grown-up morally credible person would fool around with – it would be best for you if you left the country. Everyone knew that writing was not a thing you could ever expect to make your living at.

It might be marginally acceptable to dabble around the edges of water-colour painting or poetry if you were a certain kind of man, described by Munro in ‘‘The Turkey Season’’: ‘‘There were homosexuals in town, and we knew who they were: an elegant, light-voiced, wavy-haired paperhanger who called himself an interior decorator; the minister’s widow’s fat, spoiled only son, who went so far as to enter baking contests and had crocheted a tablecloth; a hypochondriacal church organist and music teacher who kept the choir and his pupils in line with screaming tantrums.’’ Or you could do art as a hobby, if you were a woman with time on your hands, or you could scrape out a living at some poorly paid quasi-artistic job. Munro’s stories are sprinkled with women like this. They go in for piano-playing, or write chatty newspaper columns. Or – more tragically – they have a real though small talent, like Almeda Roth in ‘‘Meneseteung,’’ but there is no context for them. Almeda produces one volume of minor verse, published in 1873, called Offerings:

The local paper, the
Vidette, referred to her as ‘‘our poetess.’’ There seems to be a mixture of respect and contempt, both for her calling and for her sex – or for their predictable conjuncture.

At the beginning of the story Almeda is a maiden lady whose family has died. She lives alone, preserves her good name, and does charitable works. But by the end, the dammed-up river of art has overflowed – helped on by hefty doses of laudanumlaced painkiller – and it sweeps her rational self away:

Poems, even. Yes, again, poems. Or one poem. Isn’t that the idea – one very great poem that will contain everything and, oh, that will make all the other poems, the poems she has written, inconsequential, mere trial and error, mere rags? . . . The name of the poem is the name of the river. No, in fact it is the river, the Meneseteung . . . Almeda looks deep, deep into the river of her mind and into the tablecloth, and she sees the crocheted roses floating.

This seemed to be the fate of an artist – of necessity, a minor artist – in the small Sowesto towns of yore: silence enforced by the need for respectability, or else an eccentricity verging on madness. If you moved to a larger Canadian city, you might at least find a few others of your ilk, but in the small towns of Sowesto you’d be on your own. Nevertheless, John Kenneth Galbraith, Robertson Davies, Marian Engel, Graeme Gibson, and James Reaney all came out of Sowesto; and Alice Munro herself – after a spell on the west coast – moved back there, and lives at present not far from Wingham, the prototype of the various Jubilees and Walleys and Dalgleishes and Hanrattys in her stories.

Through Munro’s fiction, Sowesto’s Huron County has joined Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County as a slice of land made legendary by the excellence of the writer who has celebrated it, though in both cases ‘‘celebrated’’ is not quite the right word. ‘‘Anatomized’’ might be closer to what goes on in the work of Munro, though even that term is too clinical. What should we call the combination of obsessive scrutiny, archeological unearthing, precise and detailed recollection, the wallowing in the seamier and meaner and more vengeful undersides of human nature, the telling of erotic secrets, the nostalgia for vanished miseries, and rejoicing in the fullness and variety of life, stirred all together?

At the end of Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women (1971), her only novel and a bildungsroman – a novel of development, in this case a portrait of the artist as a young girl – there’s a telling passage. Del Jordan of Jubilee, who has by now – true to her last name – crossed over into the promised land of womanhood and also of writerhood, says of her adolescence:

It did not occur to me then that one day I would be so greedy for Jubilee. Voracious and misguided as Uncle Craig out at Jenkin’s Bend, writing his history, I would want to write things down. I would try to make lists. A list of all the stores and businesses going up and down the main street and who owned them, a list of family names, names on the tombstones in the cemetery and any inscriptions underneath . . .

The hope of accuracy we bring to such tasks is crazy, heartbreaking. And no list could hold what I wanted, for what I wanted was every last thing, every layer of speech and thought, stroke of light on bark or walls, every smell, pothole, pain, crack, delusion, held still and held together – radiant, everlasting.

As a programme for a life’s work this is daunting. Nevertheless it’s a programme Alice Munro was to follow over the next thirty-five years with remarkable fidelity.


Alice Munro was born Alice Laidlaw, in 1931, which means that she was a small child during the Depression. She was eight in 1939, the year Canada entered the Second World War, and she attended university – the University of Western Ontario, in London – in the postwar years. She was twenty-five and a young mother when Elvis Presley first became famous, and thirty-eight at the time of the flower-child revolution and the advent of the women’s movement in 1968–9, a moment in time that saw the publication of her first book. In 1981 she was fifty. Her stories are set mainly over these years – the ’30s to the ’80s – or even before then, in the time of ancestral memory.

Her own ancestry was partly Scotch Presbyterian: she can trace her family back to James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, friend of Robert Burns and the Edinburgh literati of the late eighteenth century, and author of The Confessions of a Justified Sinner, which could itself be a Munro title. On the other side of the family there were Anglicans, for whom the worst sin is said to consist of using the wrong fork at dinner. Munro’s acute consciousness of social class, and of the minutiae and sneers separating one level from the next, is honestly come by, as is – from the Presbyterians – her characters’ habit of rigorously examining their own deeds, emotions, motives, and consciences, and finding them wanting. In a traditional Protestant culture, such as that of small-town Sowesto, forgiveness is not easily come by, punishments are frequent and harsh, potential humiliation and shame lurk around every corner, and nobody gets away with much.

But this tradition also contains the doctrine of justification by faith alone: grace descends upon us without any action on our part. In Munro’s work, grace abounds, but it is strangely disguised: nothing can be predicted. Emotions erupt. Preconceptions crumble. Surprises proliferate. Astonishments leap out. Malicious acts can have positive consequences. Salvation arrives when least expected, and in peculiar forms. But as soon as you make such a pronouncement about Munro’s writing – or any other such analysis, inference, or generalization about it – you’re aware of that mocking commentator so often present in a Munro story – the one who says, in essence, Who do you think you are? What gives you the right to think you know anything about me, or about anyone else for that matter? Or, to quote from Lives of Girls and Women again, ‘‘People’s lives . . . were dull, simple, amazing and unfathomable – deep caves paved with kitchen linoleum.’’ The key word here is ‘‘unfathomable.’’

Revue de presse

“Munro stands as one of the living colossi of the modern short story, and her Chekhovian realism, her keen psychological insight, her instinctive feel for the emotional arithmetic of domestic life have indelibly stamped contemporary writing.”

“In Alice Munro’s hands, the smallest moments contain the central truths of a lifetime.”

“Alice Munro has a strong claim to being the best fiction writer now working in North America.”

“Captivating . . . Munro does what most writers dream of doing and succeeds at it, page after page, story after story, collection after collection.”

“From a markedly finite number of essential components, Munro rather miraculously spins out countless permutations of desire and despair, attenuated hopes and cloudbursts of epiphany . . . Every one of these
women is different, and that is the wonder of Alice Munro.”

“Alice Munro is among the major writers of English fiction of our time . . . In Munro’s work, grace abounds, but it is strangely disguised: nothing can be predicted. Emotions erupt. Preconceptions crumble. Surprises proliferate. Astonishments leap out. Malicious acts can have positive consequences. Salvation arrives when least expected, and in peculiar forms.”
—from the Introduction by Margaret Atwood

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61 internautes sur 70 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Great Stories, but Don't Settle for a Selection 24 octobre 2006
Par Reviewer - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
These stories were purportedly selected by Alice Munro herself. Well, I guess Alice needs to make a living, too, as well as writing masterpiece after masterpiece. However, every story in the selection draws meaning and resonance from its original context in the suite of stories from which it was extracted. If you've never read Munro, I'd suggest getting the early collection Moons of Jupiter. If you're not blown away by that book, you wouldn't be "carried away" by the Everyman's Library selection either. On the other hand, if you are astonished by the emotional subtlety of the Moons, then you'll want to buy and read the other ten story-books as well!
34 internautes sur 40 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Vintage Munro...A Working-Class Writer 24 décembre 2006
Par Kindle Customer LS - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
I have come to the fiction of Alice Munro late. She has been producing extraordinary short stories set in Ontario, Cananda mostly for decades. And she captures a working-class world for me that speaks to my own roots. The stories are about people first and I expect place secondly, but her sense of the culture and social stratification are so accurate they make me remember and realize. Her sense of detail and dialogue are also accurate and winning. I give this big compendium 5 stars, and recommend her to all.
14 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A 'best of' collection from one of the world's foremost authors 27 février 2010
Par P. J. Owen - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
Alice Munro is one of the foremost writers of our time, but she is not well-known in the US, probably because she writes primarily short stories, a genre not particularly well sold here. But if one only gives her a chance, they will find her short stories are of such depth and detail and emotion and pain and regret and every other part of humanity, that they are just as satisfying as the best novels we could read.

Carried Away is a collection of her best stories up to 2004's Runaway. For those who haven't read her, this is a great place to start. The selection starts with the best from her 1978 collection, Who Do You Think You Are?, and samples her best work throughout the 80's and 90's. Munro herself is from southwest Ontario, Canada, and most of her stories are set here. They are almost an anthropological study of the people there in their precise detail. In fact, Munro is often compared to Chekhov for that detail, the omniscient narrator she often employs, and the placing of moments of epiphany over plot in her hierarchy of literary priorities. She also likes to shift around in time, as well as perspectives, to give the reader a well-rounded view of the story. I especially like this Rashomon-type technique, as it allows the reader to come to the truth despite the subjectivity and biases of the individual characters.

All of the stories collected here are excellent, but the two that close the collection are my favorites. `Runaway' is about an unhappy woman who considers leaving her husband. In this story, all of Munro's techniques are on display to paint a heartbreaking portrait of a woman trying to come to terms with her husband and her life. There are the multiple POVs, the stark and detailed narrative, and the use of letters to reveal a truth. The collection ends with `The Bear Came Over the Mountain', a touching story of an elderly woman with dementia and her husband. In it, we learn to what lengths someone will go to maintain the dignity of those they love, while also caring for their own needs.

For anyone interested in fiction, Alice Munro is an author you must become acquainted with. Carried Away is a great place to start.
14 internautes sur 17 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A thoroughly wonderful and cohesive compendium of human experience 12 janvier 2008
Par Elizabeth A. Egan - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
Using spare sentences and stark settings, Alice Munro covers in one short story a novel's worth of human experience. Each word is pregnant with nuance and meaning, as if she spent all of her time paring down her work until only the most esstential and core words remained. Even though the themes of her stories are permutations, read each story one at a time, appreciating it like the gem that it is. I will definitely read more of her work.
5 internautes sur 6 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A Little Bit of Grace Goes a Long Way 7 juin 2011
Par J. Ang - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
To read an Alice Munro short story is to allow yourself to be totally transported to an elevated awareness of human nature and go "I know how that feels". The amazing thing about Munro is her ability to put into words (that are both precise and concise) emotions and demeanours that we are familiar with, but which we have not been able to articulate (at least for this reader).

Because of its compact nature, I find myself thrown headlong into a Munro story from the very first sentence and there's no letting go till the very last word. But the story doesn't just end there; it continues to resonate in your consciousness and you have to take a breather before you plunge into the next story.

This collection is a broad overview of a career that has spanned more than 40 years, and arranged chronologically. So it's interesting to see how she progressed from the viewpoint of a young girl in 'Royal Beatings' to that of an elderly couple in the last story 'The Bear Came Over the Mountain' (made into the movie 'Away from Her')from the 2001 collection 'Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage'.

In that titular story, a seemingly conventional schoolgirl prank of fake love letters lead to an unusually happy ending for the misguided couple, while the conspiratorial guilty parties fall apart. The story of a small bookshop owner with an unhappy past is interspersed with the story of an American traveller who is taken captive and then adopted by a tribe, which is overlaid by the bookshop owner's own relationship with a hippie couple in 'The Albanian Virgin'.

Each story is richly interwoven with layers, and there are moments of real tension and fear that the reader feels for the characters in stories like 'Carried Away' and 'Wilderness Station' when they are faced with malevolent situations that unfold as suddenly as any real life situation would. There is also much pathos in the description of the degeneration of a spouse in 'The Bear Came Over the Mountain' coupled with the startling realisation that there are other unanticipated issues when one checks into a convalescent home.

Alice Munro succeeds at her craft again and again because she never loses a writer's empathy for all her characters and all the failings that make them completely and wonderfully human.
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