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Lives of Girls and Women (Penguin Modern Classics) [Paperback]

Alice Munro , Jane Smiley
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 24 2005

Lives of Girls and Women is the intensely readable, touching, and very funny story of Del Jordan, a young woman who journeys from the carelessness of childhood through an uneasy adolescence in search of love and sexual experience.

As Del dreams of becoming famous, suffers embarrassment about her mother, endures the humiliation of her body's insistent desires, and tries desperately to fall in love, she grapples with the crises that mark the passage to womanhood.


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Lives of Girls and Women is nearly always recommended as an ideal introduction to Alice Munro. Everyone who preaches this doctrine knows that it is doing Munro a bit of a disservice: Lives of Girls and Women is her only novel, and it is certainly not her best work. Nonetheless, it is a seductive book, one that consistently turns dabblers into Munro devotees.

Munro follows the late childhood and adolescence of Del Jordan, an intelligent girl growing up in Jubilee, Ontario (one of the most palpable fictional towns in all of Canadian fiction) in the 1940s. Del is ordinary enough--she doesn't fit into her community, but this is the lot of any gifted child in a small, working-class town. Her father raises silver foxes for a living, her mother (a tentative feminist living in a decidedly traditionalist community) drives the back roads trying to sell encyclopedias to farmers. Del's passage through the usual travails of growing up (family deaths, lost friends, the awkward beginnings of sexuality) is rendered with extraordinary skill. It is easy to find compassionate writers, but the Munro of Lives of Girls and Women is a much more valuable find: a writer blessed with empathy, humour, and even cruelty. She can lovingly eviscerate her characters when it is necessary, yet never slips into the lazy shorthand of caricature. Some of her short story collections are better made (Open Secrets and Who Do You Think You Are?, for example), but the scope of Lives of Girls and Women makes it one of Munro's most memorable books. --Jack Illingworth --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"...Munro brilliantly captures the initial tremors of this profound social transition." - Toronto Star

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
What an amazing book! This not merely a good book for middle-aged women, or good instruction for girls, or any such claptrap. To label Munro as good "women's lit" is demeaning to women and demeaning to "The Lives of Girls and Women." (Plus it makes men who enjoy reading her a bit funny.) It's a great book! In any category!
Munro is a master of characterization and narrative structure. Del's description of her mother, for example, reveals: (1) Del's feeling of discomfort at her own place within Jubilee's hierarchy and environment; Del wants to fit in, and her mother embodies the eccentric within her own self. (2) Del's mother's strengths, pulling herself from abject poverty, putting herself through school, starting her own business in conservative postwar rural Canada - this woman evokes our admiration, despite the disgust of our narrator. It's these multidimensional portraits that makes Munro so great - yes, a character (Del's mother) can earn our admiration, disgust, and pity all at once...
Then in the building of conflict, Munro ALWAYS surprises us. Every scene is fresh, new, interesting, every culmination of conflict resolves in ways we would never expect. Take the time when Del was being molested by her mother's boarder's boyfriend. One day she goes off with him in his car out to the country, and we're expecting some "Bastard Out of Carolina" child-raping exploitation and subsequent weepy victim hood. But Munro makes a left at the light, has the man simply masturbate in front of the child, who for her part is excited, charmed, and repelled by the sight and is grateful to be introduced to the mystery of the penis.
And lastly, Munro refuses to depict her women in the same, old tired way.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written but dull... Feb. 27 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Alice Munro received the Nobel Prize for literature. She then became a "must read".
Sadly, however beautifully written, I found this book to,be very dull. I could not identify with the female narrator. The day to day life in a very small town in Ontario was not interesting to me.
I am sorry to say I did not enjoy reading this book and I struggled to finish it.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars July 14 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book ended up surprising me. It was rather interesting.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Nobel Prise winner June 27 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Alice Munro is just great. You must read her. Her stories get to the very heart of the lives she knows.
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3.0 out of 5 stars I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it either May 19 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
It's interesting enough that I stayed with it, but not so much that I motored through it in a few hours like with others. Overall, the novel didn't feel very cohesive, but more disjointed, like a series of short stories about the same characters. Not my favourite, but also not my least favourite either.
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5.0 out of 5 stars As finely worked as an intricate embroidery July 22 2013
By Allie
Format:Paperback
This is a wonderful book, rich as a banquet, as finely worked as an intricate embroidery, the kind of book I love to read and the kind I aspire to write.
It reads like an auto-biography but is in fact a novel, which chronicles the girlhood and journey to womanhood of Del. Del is an extra-ordinary girl in an ordinary town – the town’s name, Jubilee, is beautifully ironic as nothing the least bit celebratory or festive ever happens there. Two things make her extra-ordinary. Her non-conforming, encyclopaedia-selling mother is the first. She brings Del up in spite of her dull, compliant father, to question everything, especially the sacred cows of Jubilee society, and to expect great things of herself. The second thing is Del herself, her gimlet eye and penetrating understanding, her capacity for reflection, her innate intelligence.
Warring against these forces are the usual, but so truthfully rendered, forces of adolescence; peer pressure, childish curiosity, teenage rebellion. Any woman and I suspect most men will have spent time, as Del does, both yearning for God and not believing in him, hating and loving their parents at one and the same time, eaten up with stammering self-consciousness when the boy we have been fantasising about in explicit, breathless Technicolor just so much as looks our way. The consuming fear and obsessive fascination of sex. This is a coming of age novel as good, and probably better, than any I have read.
Jubilee is peopled by a cast of wonderful characters, some of them only sketchily drawn and yet still amazingly corporeal; Del’s two eccentric Aunts, Mr Chamberlain, the paedophile Radio announcer, Miss Farris the doomed school teacher.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars REALISTIC AND BRILLIANT Sept. 21 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I was forced to read this book during the final exams for my H.S.C. but actually found that it was very enjoyable. It is the touching story of a young girl growing up in Canada in the 40s, who yearns to be an artist, and her journey towards womanhood. The format of the story is unique and the characters are likeable and real enough to believe in. This is a well-told semi-autobiographical novel which stays in the memory long after it's has been read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favorite book Oct. 23 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I couldn't possibly say all I want to say about how good this book is. I am Alice Munro's biggest fan and this is my favorite of her books. Many of her later stories are larger in scope, more ambitious in their reach, but this book is truly a gem. Get lost in Del's world. Munro creates a lush, astounding, painfully, gorgeously real world. Read this book and then read it again. And give it to every one of your friends.
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