When Alice Munro had just been announced as the recipient of this year´s Nobel Prize in Literature (it bugs me when people say someone has won the Nobel Prize; it´s not a competition, it´s an award) the media was all over it, of course. Malin Ullenhag in Dagens Nyheter wrote a short piece about the short story vs the novel, where she argued (based on an essay by literature historian Andreas Gailus) that the short story is the genre of crisis, rather than psychological development. The short story maintains the protagonist´s lack of insight and in that regard, the short story is "stupider" and "more honest" than the novel. I thought that was an interesting point and something to keep in mind during the reading.
I have, in tandem with a friend, read Munro´s latest collection, "Dear Life" (Sw. "Brinnande livet"), and I suppose we chose that one because it was on the e-library. It is also her last collection, as she has announced her retirement.
Munro is unsentimental and almost cruel in her candour, just as Ullenhag says that short story-writers are (or should be). And I suppost that is what I like about her the most, that she doesn´t avert her eye from the less savoury parts of human existence. In this collection (which is the only one I have read so far) some themes of the stories are
- people just letting things happen to them. They are all frustratingly passive. Almost aggressively passive, which is not the same as passive-aggressive.
- people believing that their imaginations are the truth. Many of her protagonists seem very deluded, perhaps psychotic.
- strategies for those left over. Those who live their lives on scraps from other people´s table, as it were.
- fear of community. Actually, community in a Munro story is mostly about oppression, and alone-ness is about freedom. Munro´s people find meaning in their work, for the most part; they seldom find it in each other.
I really like Munro, reading her opened up some issues I have been struggling with in my own writing. I have already bought another of her collections, "The Moons of Jupiter" from 1982, partly because I want to see if her themes are consistent throughout her work or if they change from collection to collection. Also, I want to read her in her own language. I usually feel there is something missing from a translation. Not always, but sometimes.
This is a proper good read, and - it has been said - unlike many recipients of the Nobel Prize, an author that should be accessible to most readers. I´m not so sure. I think that to really appreciate her, you need to be a survivor; on the other hand, there are many of us out here.