Thursday, 13 November 2014

Alice Munro, "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage"

 – e-book

Read from to October 28th to November 11th 2014



“Forsooken” but not forsaken

In a time of either careless abandon or generous inclusion of any literary technique ever thought of, Alice Munro still manages to surprise the reader, not only with her deceptive narrative perspective or her sly manipulation of the timeline, but also with the unexpected development of well-known themes, the powerful recreation of places and people and the plethora of significations.

I read so many volumes of short stories, including one of hers, but I can hardly recall holding a better one in my hand. The first and the last stories of this amazing book are masterpieces. The other eight are not far behind. On the whole, a perfect ten that undoubtedly puts Alice Munro among the geniuses of the genre.

All tales are about relationships, which end or not in marriage, the main theme of the book, suggested firstly by the title in which the word stands alone like a purpose or an end, then it is developed and mirrored, sometimes indirectly, in each of the ten stories with its own theme.


The first, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, combines the Cinderella motif with the theme of fate to create maybe an allegory of the creator that loses the reins gradually as his growing creation asserts its independence. The unexpected finale is however only one of the surprises of a text that continually changes the tone and the point of view, falsely foreshadowing to suggest that the story is not the same for every character, just as it is not the same for every reader. Unfolding slowly, it is in turn an unsolved mystery for the station agent, a happily ever after for Johanna, an unpunished wrongdoing for Mr McCauley and an amusing hoax for Edith. Among them all, the most frustrated will feel Edith, whose demiurgic work is reversed in the mockery she thought for a long time was solely hers to display:
It was the whole twist of consequence that dismayed her—it seemed fantastical, but dull. Also insulting, like some sort of joke or inept warning, trying to get its hooks into her. For where, on the list of things she planned to achieve in her life, was there any mention of her being responsible for the existence on earth of a person named Omar?   
This complicated multi-perspective will not be used in the other stories, even though in many the third narrative will hide a first person perspective. Most of them will go in, though, for the surprise element, skilfully leading the plot towards its unexpected climax, often alluding to some other mythical motif.

In Floating Bridge, Jinny’s tiredness is opposed to her husband’s callousness, but the eventual compassion of the reader is thwarted by the secret she eventually reveals – the doctor informed her that her cancer is in remission. In a Persephone gesture, she celebrates her revival by drinking from the fountain of youth.

The cruelty of the creative mind is explored once again in Family Furnishings, where the black sheep of the family is used only for literary purposes by a narrator with the same lack of warmth as the one in the Faustian Post and Bean. In Queenie, the lost-sister theme is developed using the contrast between reality and expectations. In Comfort and Nettles both heroines make their descensus ad inferos, one in an orphic attempt to retrieve her husband’s traces, the other to apportion the loss and the guilt. In What Is Remembered Meriel rewrites “Madame Bovary” the other way around.

If the first story masterfully broke the perspective, to rearrange it according to its own inner rules, the last one, The Bear Came Over the Mountain, does the same with the time. The storyline moves to and fro, zigzagging through different points of the past not necessarily in a Proustian way, but rather following some secret demand of the narrative to reveal the design of the complicate relationship between memory and fidelity. The story ends brilliantly with the image of the innocent heroine tripping over words she begins to forget in the arms of her unfaithful husband who pledges not to forget about her:
“You could have just driven away,” she said. “Just driven away without a care in the world and forsook me. Forsooken me. Forsaken.” He kept his face against her white hair, her pink scalp, her sweetly shaped skull. He said, Not a chance.
Runaway reminded me of Joyce. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage is in a class of its own, a landmark oeuvre rather than a satellite work. Definitely a must-read.


My rating

8 comments:

  1. I got this book as a prize in a literary blog contest. I haven't gotten around to read it yet, but it's on my short list. After your beautiful review, I think it may just have gone up a few places. ;)

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  2. Thank you. I hope you like it at least as much as I did :).

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  3. Mă bucur că înțeleg măcar această limbă - dar ce anume înseamnă forsooken, sau nu înseamnă nimic? Am căutat pe google, dar nu m-am lămurit.
    Stela, ai scris foarte fain despre povestirile lui Munro, spunând esențialul în cuvinte puține, dar foarte bine alese. Ba ai făcut și unele paralele care mie îmi sunt străine, deci trebuie să recuperez cu clasicii! Nici măcar Madame Bovary n-am citit...
    Ai dreptate, Munro este genială și e chiar uimitor că a scris numai proză scurtă (am înțeles că singura carte care se apropie de statutul de roman este compusă tot din povestiri). E ca și cum ar fi vrut să atingă perfecțiunea în acest gen literar și se pare că a reușit - ba chiar fără să apeleze la subiecte explozive... Sper totuși ca volumul de față să nu fie cel mai bun al ei!

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    Replies
    1. Nefiind decît al doilea pe care l-am citit, nu pot sa spun daca nu are altele la fel sau poate chiar mai bune - desi mai bune de atît e aproape imposibil! "Forsooken" e luat din încercarea Fionei de a-si aminti cuvîntul "forsaken" - am încercat sa fiu subtila în titlu si sa fac aluzie la tehnicile narative folosite de autoare, care par familiare cum pare, daca vrei, limba sparga a Ninei Cassian. Se pare ca n-am reusit decît sa fiu confuza :))))).

      În alta ordine de idei, nu situ daca as vrea ca Munro sa scrie romane. Short story became her label, and what a label! :)

      Multumesc mult de aprecieri!

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    2. Scuze că răspund mai târziu, sunt prinsă cu mutatul dintr-o casă în alta (acum aspiram niște fotolii), dar voiam să te liniștesc, pentru că nu ai fost deloc confuză - eu am crezut că acel cuvânt înseamnă și ceva concret. Un vorbitor neaoș de engleză ar fi înțeles imediat aluzia ta. :)
      E clar că Munro s-a dedicat prozei scurte, altfel scria până acum și romane. Din câte am înțeles, s-a retras din activitate după Dear Life - dar poate că o să mai scrie, mi-e greu să cred că s-ar putea opri! Deși te întrebi de unde tot scoate atâtea subiecte pentru povestirile ei - și are destule, slavă domnului!

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    3. Nici o problema, scumpo, spor la mutat! E stresanta dar si excitanta actiunea asta, tre sa recunosti :)

      Fusesi la vot? Hm, banuiesc ca atunci cînd o sa vezi întrebarea mea o sa stii deja si rezultatul... eu tin pumnii strînsi si ma întreb daca sa ma mai duc o data sa încerc, ca azi dimineata am plecat, era o coada infernala!

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    4. Hei, am văzut deja întrebarea ta, dar deocamdată nu știu decât rezultatele de la exit-poll-uri, care sunt foarte strânse. Da, am votat pe la prânz, iar până mâine o să stau ca pe ghimpi! Se pare că voturile din diaspora vor fi cele decisive, dar e revoltător ce se întâmplă cu oamenii ăștia solidari care stau de atâtea ore la coadă! M-am emoționat urmărind câteva reportaje... Acum faci și tu cum crezi, mi-e teamă că nu va scădea deloc coada până seara - sau, cine știe, poate merge mai bine... Îți iei un scăunel pliant și o carte și poate așa trece timpul mai ușor! :)

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    5. Quick reply doar ca sa ma bucur si aici un pic! Nici la Montreal n-a apucat toata lumea sa voteze, iar mie mi-a parut rau ca nu mi-am luat aparatul cu mine cînd am fost duminica dimineata (fara succes) sa votez. Bine ca n-a fost nevoie de votul meu, pîna la urma!

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