Another book that has been lingering on my shelves for a few years. I read Alice Munro right after she received the Nobel Prize in 2013 and I enjoyed her dreamy, but at he same time matter of fact style immensely.
This one is touted as a novel. Which is very unusual for Alice Munro, as she typically writes short stories. So it got me intrigued. The thing is it’s not really a novel. More a set of short stories strung together like beads by the place and main character, Del. We meet Del when she’s around 8 years old. Living in the outskirts of small town Jubilee in Ontario.
The stories revolve around her growing up and the women in her life. There is several male characters like her father, uncles and brother, but they really kind of blend with the background. Del’s life is shaped by her interactions with women.
Her mother who does not really fit in. Her ambitions too big for the community she has to live in. Her heart always seeking more and bigger things. At the same time bound by the obligations she needs to fulfill and suffocated by them. Conforming and rebelling in turns.
The title of the book actually comes from Del’s mom, where she senses something is about to happen: “There is a change coming I think in the lives of girls and women. Yes. But it is up to us to make it come. All women have had up till now has been their connection with men. All we have had. No more lives of our own, really, than domestic animals. He shall hold thee, when his passion shall have spent its novel force, a little closer than his dog, a little dearer than his horse. Tennyson wrote that. It’s true. Was true.”
But Del’s mother is not the only woman she observes growing up. There is a pair of aunts Grace and Elspeth, who devoted their lives to supporting uncle Craig’s dream of writing a family history. That’s not to say they don’t have rich personalities, they are a pair of string characters. Which is clearly proven when uncle Craig dies and they continue with their quirky lives.
We then have Fern Dogherty, a boarder in Del’s family home (second one, once they moved to the center of Jubilee). Fern loves life, happily has affairs and generally is set to make the best of what she has and enjoy it in the process. On the other side we have Del’s friend Naomi, they are very close as girls. But as they grow up Naomi decides to conform with the role required of her, while Del is still kicking against it.
Throughout the book we see as Del’s perception changes, her reaction to different women varies and evolves. Especially towards her mother, but her growing experience gradually pushes her to define herself. Even though she is not ready to make the final decision just yet.
Sometimes, she is tempted by her mother’s resistance and wants to take it to the next level. Other times, we can almost feel her being ashamed of her mother antics. She can be fascinated by Naomi’s submission one day only to be repulsed by it the next. All the joys of growing up and finding ones place.
As we get towards the end of the book we feel Del is ever closer to making the final decisions. Those that will define her life for the foreseeable future. She is at the same time afraid, already missing her past and exhilarated in equal measure about the future.
As always with Munro we get a beautiful prose, painting in loving detail daily life of a small community. Allowing for people to show their eccentricities in all glory, against the backdrop of society’s expectations, but also a level of communal acceptance. It’s a different world, smaller in a way, slower, a world that feels like past, but where the struggles for change feel very much like the ones of the present.
*I really, really dislike to block editor, because even in the classic block (created for the obstinate people like me) they removed the justify option for paragraphs! I know it’s off topic, but I needed to vent 🙂