Book Review: The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro




The View from Castle Rock Book Cover The View from Castle Rock
Alice Munro
Literature & Fiction/Short Stories
Vintage Books USA

Alice Munro is a Canadian author who has penned such works as Runaway, The Moons of Jupiter and Open Secrets. She is the winner of the W H Smith Literary Award and was awarded The Man Booker International Prize for her achievements in fiction in 2009. She is a regular contributor to The New Yorker magazine and currently lives in Ontario, Canada. The View from Castle Rock contains stories that blends fact and fiction, as well as the author's personal memoirs, contained “... within the outline of a true narrative.” Munro has drawn from her own personal research of her Scottish ancestor, William Laidlaw (Will O'Phaup), “a man who took on, at least locally, something of the radiance of myth...and that his life was lived in a world still remote and self-contained, still harboring its own mythology and local wonders. And he was one of them”. These intriguing accounts of Munro's ancestors and their antics, excerpts from letters and brief personal accounts from family journals, provide a compelling backdrop for this literary masterpiece. Munro intricately weaves her family history into well crafted stories that are set amongst the rugged countryside of the Ettrick Valley, outside Edinburgh, an area which is synonymous with legendary historical figures: Hadrian, William Wallace and Robert the Bruce.

The short stories on offer include a supernatural encounter on All Hallows Eve in 'No Advantages'. A stirring account of a visit to Edinburgh Castle, and a perilous journey to The New World in 'The View from Castle Rock'. The second half of this book, 'Home', contains memoirs that bring to life the struggle and challenges of Munro's responsibilities as a young child, whilst caring for an invalid mother. These bitter-sweet memories are juxtaposed with lively tales of growing up in the 1950s in a small rural Canadian town in 'Hired Girl 'and 'Lying Under the Apple Tree' - all of which are written with a mixture of candour and quiet humour. Alice Munro has an uncanny talent for taking the seemingly mundane experiences of the human existence and magnifying their extraordinary value. Her observations of people and vibrant descriptions of the English and Canadian countryside are akin to Lucy Maud Montgomery's - Anne of Green Gables. This collection highlights the importance of a person's rich family history and proves that it can be more entertaining that a solitary work of fiction.

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