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The View from Castle Rock: Stories by Alice…
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The View from Castle Rock: Stories (2006)

by Alice Munro

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In this collection of stories, Alice Munro explores the history of her Scottish immigrant ancestors, imagining the events in Scotland that led to their emigration to Canada. Once settled in the bush of western Ontario, the stories evolve through the mid nineteenth century to the late 20th century. The last two thirds of the book are memoir-like, exploring the author's own life and experiences.

This is not truly memoir because there is much that the author invents and imagines. I particularly enjoyed it because I have also reached the age where I speculate on my own ancestors and how they might have been. And I am familiar with the landscape of the Lake Huron shores of Ontario.

The writing is quintessential Munro. The work is driven by characters rather than plot. The sequential stories are strung together by characters that appear at different times in their lives, revealing how those people develop over time. I've often thought that Alice Munro was ahead of her time in that her style of writing appeals to the modern desire for short episodic narratives that has evolved in the era of digital media. ( )
  tangledthread | Feb 9, 2014 |
I may be the luckiest person on earth. I've just discovered a writer, who is prolific, and whose writing is astoundingly beautiful and I now have her whole oeuvre to explore at my leisure. I'm looking at you Alice Munro. What a Christmas present I have given to, er, myself!

The most recent Nobel Laureate mined her family's history to come up with the linked stories contained in this collection. From the time her great-great-great-great grandfather stood on Edinburgh Castle Rock and heard his father tell him that on a clear day you could see America, we follow Alice's ancestors in 1818 as they cross the Atlantic to Canada and bear the hardships that other pioneer families before them have also borne. From there on she pivots to a first person narrative and tells of the life of a young girl as she grows into adulthood in the shadow of Lake Huron in northern Ontario. And towards the end of the book, as Alice is investigating cemeteries in Ontario, trying to hone in on family burial plots, the author tells us:

"It is difficult to make such requests in reference libraries because you will often be asked what it is, exactly, that you want to know, and what do you want to know it for? Sometimes, it is even necessary to write your reason down. If you are doing a paper, a study, you will of course have a good reason, but what if you are just interested? The best thing, probably, is to say you are probably doing a family history. Librarians are used to people doing that---particularly people who have gray hair---and it is generally thought to be a reasonable way of spending one's time. Just interested sounds apologetic, if not shifty, and makes you run the risk of being seen as an idler lounging around in the library, a person at loose ends, with no proper direction in life, nothing better to do." (Page 326)

It is through the most ordinary people that we come to know this writer of exceptional ability. And I am very lucky to have her whole oeuvre ahead of me. Very highly recommended. ( )
5 vote brenzi | Dec 17, 2013 |
This is my first collection of stories by Nobel winner Munro and it will not be my last. The first chapter is a bit weirdly filled with details but the totality is a truly pleasurable read. Built with the frame of a family history, the stories build upon one another until suddenly they don't, and then they wrap back around again. Written as if autobiographical, although Munro insists "these are stories" in her forward, they bring insight and poignancy to the generations and branches of an extended family, starting with their emigration from Scotland, escorting us through their settlement and moving around Canada, and evolving through the near-current day which lands us firmly in Ontario. Munro is a master of the moment: the brief verbal or nonverbal exchange between two people, the grief associated with loss and transition as it is captured by a piece of furniture or a landscape, the quiet thoughts of a character in between scenes. Definitely recommended. ( )
  EBT1002 | Nov 23, 2013 |
I occasionally like a good portion of family-history and because of my fascination for Nordic countries, I thought this one would be a good choice. I was a bit disappointed because Alice Munro has created stories about her ancestors who moved from Scotland to Canada, based on very few facts. She admits that she got carried away by them and invented those stories. I prefer to be rather clear about things: either you write family-history or you write fiction. Since the information which the author had at her disposal was very limited, I'd rather categorize this book as fiction. But in that respect, I thought the story was a bit unbalanced, even moreso because the second part comprised an autobiography. Not really what I was hoping for. IMO Marguerite Yourcenar's Archives du Nord and Souvenirs Pieux which I read decades ago are still unrivalled, but maybe I should do a reread because surely no book can be that good as it is in my memory. ( )
  JustJoey4 | Nov 18, 2013 |
In The View from Castle Rock, Alice Munro mines her family history to create a set of linked stories spanning 150 years. Part I begins with ancestors who farmed the land near Edinburgh, Scotland, and eventually made their way to North America, and ends with Munro's parents making a living in the fur trade. The stories in Part II are more contemporary, and more personal, dealing with the life of a young woman (presumably based on Munro herself).

Because the stories are linked and chronological, with recurring characters, the book reads like a novel. In fact, for the last third or so I treated it that way. Rather than reading a few pages each night, I made this book my "primary read" which allowed me to get inside the characters and see connections between events in different stories.

I enjoyed this book and really, my only quibble is not with Munro but with the publisher, Vintage Books, for poor cover design. My edition sports a woman (headless!) lying on a sandy beach. There isn't a single story that matches this image, nor do the stories depict the "lazy days of summer" implied by the cover design. ( )
2 vote lauralkeet | Jul 3, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
Alice Munro's new book, The View from Castle Rock, is a delightful fraud. Whether through failure of imagination on her publisher's part, or a lack of confidence in the reader, or a shrewd authorial gambit, it is offered as a book of "Stories", the author's eleventh. But it is something else, a major achievement, and an exciting revitalisation of a somewhat exhausted genre. Resounding flyleaf rhetoric issues a denial: "So is this a memoir? No." Well, yes. It is. It is a memoir as only Alice Munro could write it.
 
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Dedicated to Douglas Gibson, who has sustained me through many travails, and whose enthusiasm for this particular book has even sent him prowling through the graveyard of Ettrick Kirk, probably in the rain.
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The Ettrick Valley lies about fifty miles due south of Edinburgh, and thirty or so miles north of the English border, which runs close to the wall Hadrian built to keep out the wild people from the north.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0099497999, Paperback)

On a clear day, you could see 'America' from Edinburgh's Castle Rock - or so said Alice Munro's great-great-great-grandfather, James Laidlaw, when he had drink taken. Then, in 1818, Laidlaw left the parish of 'no advantages', of banked Presbyterian emotions and uncanny tales - where, like his more famous cousin James Hogg, he was born and bred - and sailed to the new world with his family. This is the story of those shepherds from the Ettrick Valley and their descendants, among them the author herself. They were a Spartan lot, who kept to themselves; showing off was frowned on, and fear was commonplace, at least for females ...But opportunities present themselves for two strong-minded women in a ship's close quarters; a father dies, and a baby vanishes en route from Illinois to Canada; another story hints at incest; childhood is short and hazardous. This is family history where imperfect recollections blur into fiction, where the past shows through the present like the tracks of a glacier on a geological map. First love flowers under an apple tree while lust rears its head in a barn; a restless mother with ideas beyond her station declines painfully; a father farms fox fur and turkeys; a clever girl escapes to college and then into a hasty marriage. Beneath the ordinary landscape there's a different story - evocative, frightening, sexy, unexpected, gripping. Alice Munro tells it like no other.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:28:04 -0400)

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A compilation of short fiction journeys from the Scotland of the author's own family heritage and a ship en route to the New World, to a family odyssey from Illinois to Canada and in and around Lake Huron.

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