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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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70. The View from Castle Rock : Stories by Alice Munro (2006, 349 page hardcover, Read November 16-30)

About time I got to last year's Nobel Prize winner. This book of "stories" is more like a book of personal essays on Munro's family history. She starts in Scotland in the late nineteenth century, touching on a few larger historical distant relations, then focuses in on her ancestors departure from Scotland and immigration to Canada, to, eventually, clearing and working a farm in Ontario. Mind you, in her intro she makes a point to say that this is all fictionalized.

But much of this is somehow both too odd and too regular to be fictional, the consequences of chance and personality along with the the mystery of history and miscellaneous death and disease. Well, she covers a lot of ground. She wooes us in with hints about ancient Scotland, and then quickly become overtly fictional. The immigration comes as an 80 page short story, with personalities and dialogue essentially created out of the mist. Castle Rock is part of Edinburgh Castle (which was quite gorgeous when I saw it briefly, circa 1987). A great ancestor father takes his son there to look at the view:

The sun was out now, shining on the stone heap of houses and streets below them, and the churches whose spires did not reach to this height, and some little trees and fields, then a wide silvery stretch of water. And beyond that a pale green and grayish-blue land, part in the sunlight and part in the shadow, a land as light as mist, sucked into the sky.

“So did I not tell you?” Andrew’s father said. “America. It is only a little bit of it, though, only the shore. There is where every man is sitting in the midst of his own properties, and even the beggars is riding around in carriages.”


And so goes imagination, I suppose, and much else. But, despite all this history, she ends the book by talking a lot about her younger self and her observations and experiences, and, especially her parents. So, it becomes a biography and one learns a lot about rural Ontario.

Probably there are other ways to read this, but for me it left a sense of the oddities of personalities in history and maybe the unpredictability of it all, individual to individual. ( )
  dchaikin | Dec 14, 2014 |
Billed as a collection of stories, spanning the centuries, connecting storytellers to writers, The View from Castle Rock is, as one reviewer stated, "a delightful fraud." It's a memoir, fleshed out with fiction but based heavily on Alice Munro's family stories, starting with Will O'Phaup, star of rumor and myth and proceeding with his descendents as a character study of all the family members who came across the ocean. Those Laidlaws and O'Phaups who wrote and were written about. The Ettick Valley from whence her Scots ancestors came is described it with the ease of those who did live there, as though all these things are as familiar to her as the bush at the back of her family's farm. Though she has been there, walking the wet midlands while it rained on and off, she maintains that these are all just stories. The emphasis of her Forward is more on the flow of these tales from an original source which is never obscured with her liberties.

I read slowly at first, dubiously seeing the connections of past leading to stories she may have heard at the fireplace. Themes and hand-me-downs began to quietly appear, family lines branched, yet always returned to Huron County, and to point toward Munro's own life. Once I reached my last possible return date for this library book, I began to rip through it, and found the effect not at all negative. Nearing the last half of the book the stories become even more personal, dealing with people that Munro has observed in her own life, briefly, like her grandparents, or more closely, like her own parents. This does not mean she does not illustrate their lives as she did with Will O'Phaup, or the little-known-of William Laidlaw, in fact she may be more willing to illuminate them since she can better see what would or could have been.
But I had meant, didn't he think of himself, of the boy who had trapped along the Blyth Creek, and who went into the store and asked for Signs Snow Paper, didn't he struggle for his own self? I meant, was his life now something only other people had a use for? (p166)
She takes advantage of knowing these people and conjuring bits of fancy to tie to her memories, the details of her childhood impressions filling in the gaps of old memories; reflective commentary solidifies them.
It must have meant something, though, that at this turn of my life I grabbed up a book. Because it was in books that I would find, for the next few years, my lovers. They were men, not boys. They were self-possessed and sardonic, with a ferocious streak in them, reserves of gloom. Not Edgar Linton, not Ashley Wilkes. Not one of them companionable or kind. (p226)
My favorite thing about The View from Castle Rock was being reminded that this was a collection of people who could be traced from generation to generation, and Munro's reception of this legacy; her family's affection for books, for reading, for writing, for storytelling. It's thrilling to read about readers and writers because it's a bond that we and the author share implicitly, and perhaps connects us in a way books about no other occupation can. With this, the symbols and connections come with almost no effort, occurring to me in a pleasant and gentle manner. I liked finding myself and the things I know easily reflected in several moments across the years, on both sides of the ocean.

pp349. Penguin Canada. 2007. ( )
  knotbox | Dec 1, 2014 |
This is Alice Munro's most autobiographical collection of short stories. Some of the early stories in the book stem from research she was conducting on the history of her family. The characters are her ancestors who came from Scotland to settle in Western Canada. Munro seems to have inherited a writing gene as several of her forebears had the gift of words and had even published in their time. These family histories are well imagined while grounded in reality. Her great, great, great grandparents lived the hard and short lives of the early settlers to North America. The latter half of the stories in this collection revolve around a young Alice Munro and her more immediate family - parents and grandparents (though her grandfather did not live long enough for her to get to know well). They're deeply personal and Alice honestly presents herself as a young girl and woman, warts and all. There's a connection between the centuries because the family's roots remained agrarian and poor, though her father began the process of severing, though not entirely eliminating, these ties. The stories, spanning centuries and generations, chronicle change and transformation, in the land and in lives. ( )
  OccassionalRead | Sep 15, 2014 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 32 (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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