Josh Ang's Reviews > The View from Castle Rock

The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro
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's review
Jan 25, 2011

really liked it
Read in March, 2009

The stories in this collection were closer to Munro’s family history than her other collections, but she reassures the reader in the Foreword that they were stories and not memoirs.

Even so, I approached them with some caution, not being a huge fan of historical fiction that tended to boast more names, dates, and places than my mind had room for. What I look for ultimately is an engaging story.

When the first story, ‘No Advantages’ traced her ancestors from Scotland, alarm bells that this was going to be a boring history lesson about people I had no interest in rang in my head. However, since this was Munro’s work, I persevered.

And I am largely rewarded as the stories that followed (loosely connected by their characters) began to weave a narrative about frail but tenuous human lives. It is when the author puts herself into these stories (in various stages as a precocious child, a teenager with raging hormones, a young woman about to embark on her life as a newly-wed, a woman dealing with the uncertainty of her later years) that the reader is struck by her incisive observations of the foibles of human nature.

One such episode that illustrates this was in ‘Hired Girl’ when she probed her summer employer about a dead daughter which she already knew about. ‘How strange that I did not question my right to pry, to barge in and bring this to the surface’, she muses.

She goes on to rationalise it thus: ‘Part of the reason must have been that in the society I came from, things like that were never buried for good, but ritualistically resurrected, and that such horrors were like a badge people wore – or, mostly, that women wore – throughout their lives.’

That would have been reason enough, but a large part of Munro’s appeal lies in her ability to delve deeper into herself for a personal reason on top of a sociological one: ‘Also it may have been because I would never quite give up when it came to demanding intimacy, or at least some kind of equality, even with a person I did not like.’



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