This review has no spoilers but a recap of my favourite tales. Everyday life magnificent stories!
Says Alice Munro in the introduction to her book that once a story is published she cannot read it again, not even can she remember the details that someday gave the story its shape.
This book, as ‘The Flights’ of Olga Tokarczuk, it is also divided in short stories, what makes the reading faster and makes you anticipate of what’s coming next. The difference is that the stories of Alice Munro are more static, with a glance that spreads well into the insides of regular human beings and their own circumstances. It is about family relations, couples, friends. It discusses break-ups, guilt, resentment, but also the endless search for love, company and happiness. The stories, as short narratives, stop at some point, but they could still living a longer life if the reader decides to keep feeding them with their imagination. The majority of her characters are female, some of them without even a name. I wonder why. They probably don’t want to be the centre of attention, preferring to focus the stories in the characters surrounding them. But they are still the centre of the carrousel, where the facts and those other personalities turn in circles around them. They are still the motor of the story.
Chaddeleys and Flemings. Four cousins that live apart. One summer they go visit the only one of the four that has enough space to shelter them. They all get along with their contradicting personalities. They live from the adventures that are still living in their memories. One of the daughters tells the story. She possesses a unique vision of the mother and unties. She judges their not sophisticated ways of acting, and at the same time she admires their connection and how they look at life eye to eye. It is the same niece, years later, married and with kids, the one that faces her past when Iris, one of the cousins, pays a visit to her home in Vancouver. Since before her arrival, she apologizes to her husband, Richard, giving him a heads-up about her life and whereabouts, all of it to imply that she has had some education. Her husband is rich, snobbish. He always puts his eye in people’s backgrounds. His own wife didn’t pass that test, as she was born and raised in a poor neighbourhood. This has made her very conscious of herself. This visit ends up being the trigger for the protagonist to acknowledge her origins and face the hard truth of her ‘well educated’ husband.
Dulse. Lydia is a forty-five-years-old woman, divorced, with two kids. She notices that she has changed in the last couple of years, not for good. She is getting older and she can feel it. Lydia goes in a solo trip to a guest-house, where she meets the owners, a retired couple and other guests. She clears her thoughts at night playing board games, listening to the problems of her companions. Lydia has a relationship with Duncan. She still cannot value herself. He asks her to not bother him, to not complain, and to start changing the things he does not like about her. Almost everything. Her relationship is falling apart while she is having a nervous breakdown thinking of what he is going to think about her after the relationship is over. She does not do self-examination. She does not realize that he is not looking for intimacy, but to change her, erase her. That is what happens in the relations that are based on indifference. It is easy to judge from the outside, but looking well in the inside, they are made of little knots that have been knit with the misconceptions about the other, until they become nets that trap you and don’t let you go.
Bardon Bus. This story is difficult to read for a woman. Is the emotional dependency of men. It is this subtle dependency, that is not about money, but a feeling, individual, collective. The main character is a single woman. She is a writer, she travels for work, she lives out from her own writing, her own skills. She meets ‘X’ in Australia, an old flame from Vancouver. They live together in Queensland for a couple of weeks. He is married to his third wife. So after the work is done he leaves to his wife. Back in Vancouver her writing, her self-confidence, disappear. All her thoughts come with the shape of ‘X’. They are only based in the memories of that trip and in her desire to meet him again randomly to go back to what they had. Her roommate, a younger girl, also melts into her partners personalities to disappear herself, one after the other, recovering her identity for a moment after losing it after with another man. The protagonist can see it, she judges her physiological behaviour, but she does not relate. Once she meets ‘X’ friend who invites her for diner. It turns out to be a diner of hell. He pities her for being a woman who will never be able ‘to compete’ with the twenty-something-year-old girls that are looking for a husband. Because men of their age prefer to look for younger women, to start new families, a new love, to have other kids and she will never have the options that men have.
And this is why this book make us think of who is to blame that this female characters cannot have fulfilled lives. It leaves the door open to question about habits in society, patriarchy, to societies that are still attached to the old believes. It allows to question girls’ education and the role of older generation in creating the stereotype that involve all women.
Beautiful book, a 100% recommended.