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The View From Castle Rock [Hardcover]

Alice Munro
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 19 2006
A new collection of stories by Alice Munro is always a major event. This new collection — her most personal to date — is no exception.

Alice Munro’s stories are always wonderful and so ingrained with truths about life that readers always want to know where they came from. In this book, Alice Munro tells us.

In her Foreword (an unusual feature in itself), she explains how she, born Alice Laidlaw in Ontario, in recent years became interested in the history of her Laidlaw ancestors. Starting in the wilds of the Scottish Borders, she learned a great deal about a famous ancestor, born around 1700, who, as his tombstone records, “for feats of frolic, agility and strength, had no equal in his day.” She traced the family’s history with the help of that man’s nephew, the famous writer James Hogg, finding to her delight that each generation of the family had produced a writer who wanted to record what had befallen them.

In this way, she was able to follow the family’s voyage to Canada in 1818, and their hard times as pioneers — once a father dies on the same day that a daughter is born in the same frontier cabin. “I put all this material together over the years,” Alice tells us, “and almost without my noticing what was happening, it began to shape itself, here and there, into something almost like stories. Some of the characters gave themselves to me in their own words, others rose out of their situations.”

As the book goes down through the generations, we come to Robert Laidlaw, Alice’s father, and then, at the book’s heart, the stories become first-person stories, set during her lifetime. So is this a memoir? No. She drew on personal experiences, “but then I did anything I wanted to with this material, because the chief thing I was doing was making a story.”

The resulting collection of stories range from the title story — where through a haze of whiskey Alice’s ancestors gaze north from Edinburgh Castle at the Fife coast, believing that it is North America — all the way to the final story, where we travel with “Alice Munro” today. In the author’s words, these stories “pay more attention to the truth of a life than fiction usually does. But not enough to swear on.”

All of them are Alice Munro stories. There could be no higher praise.

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From Amazon

The latest from the accomplished and much lauded Alice Munro is a family and personal memoir presented as short stories. Munro begins in rural Scotland searching out her family roots and then moves ever closer to the present time. She covers the lives of her ancestors in Scotland (much of which must have been fictionalized), the journey by sea to Canada, the lives of her grandparents, her parents, and ultimately her own life and her searches into the past. Munro's strength as a writer is her ability to provide insight into the psychological motivations of her characters (and relations, in this case). The long title story, about the sea crossing of her ancestors, is a marvel of concision with fascinating characters conjured from the past: Walter, the young writer; Andrew, the easily embarrassed young husband; Agnes, who bears a child at sea; young Mary with a baby on her hip; and old James, the crotchety, story-telling patriarch. The book opens and closes with visits to country cemeteries, in Scotland and Canada, the former on a dismal rainy day in a rural landscape that feels lonely and depopulated. These are exceedingly quiet stories, as befits their setting in rural locales--farms and farm towns--whose lack of prosperity slows the pace of change. --Mark Frutkin


“Her full range of gifts is on display: indelible characters, deep insights about human behaviour and relationships, vibrant prose, and seductive, suspenseful storytelling.”
Publishers Weekly

The View From Castle Rock is meticulously crafted; elegant, stylish, a superb reading not only of life's vicissitudes but of the human need to connect past to present, to make sense of chaos and to find consolation in what can be salvaged from sorrow.”
London Free Press

“Munro has, as usual, written a lovely book and is serenely well-honed in her craft.”
Globe and Mail

“In The View from Castle Rock her full range of gifts is on display: indelible characters, deep insights about human behaviour and relationships, vibrant prose, and seductive, suspenseful storytelling. . . . Getting this close to the core of the girl who would become the master is a privilege and a pleasure not to be missed. And reliably as ever when the subject is human experience, Munro’s stories – whatever the proportions of fiction and fact – always bring us the truth.
— Sigrid Nunez, Publishers Weekly

“I found myself transported, enthralled, oblivious to time.”
— Pat Donnelly, Montreal Gazette

Praise for Runaway

“Alice Munro has a strong claim to being the best fiction writer now working in North America. . . . Read Munro! Read Munro!”
— Jonathan Franzen, New York Times Book Review

“When reading her work it is difficult to remember why the novel was ever invented.”
The Times (U.K.)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 1930's review Dec 8 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
She described life and attitudes in the 30's to perfection. The characters and geography were all familiar memories from my past.Since reading Castle Rock I have read three more of her fascinating stories.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Memories of Times Long Past in Ontario June 9 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
There is a special link to authors of one's own vintage: a cascade of shared memories. Margaret Atwood does that for me and more so Alice Munro.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  19 reviews
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Alice Munro tells great short stories Jan. 12 2008
By Armchair Interviews - Published on
Alice Munro is a wonderful Canadian writer. She has won numerous awards for her work in Canada, the United States and in the United Kingdom. The View from Castle Rock is her eleventh book of short stories-and it is terrific.

Castle Rock is a high rocky outcropping in Scotland, not too far north of the Hadrian Wall that divides England and Scotland. From that vantage point one of Munro's ancestors was said to have looked out and thought he saw America and inspired his young son to later emigrate to Ontario, Canada. Obviously, he didn't really see America, but the family story persisted. From this story and others told by family members, Munro has created a delightful cast of characters who live, work, and die on their piece of Huron County, Ontario.

While the book is a group of stories, they are attached to one another so that the book reads almost like a novel or memoir. Each connecting story adds a layer to the fictionalized family history that she is creating. While inspired by actual family members, the book is not a recitation of fact. She finds a name, a place, and a date of birth and/or death and creates a life.

Munro starts her book in Scotland with the story about the rock. Another story tells of the ocean journey that ends in Ontario. Another tells of the building of a farm. Another set of stories comes from letters written by the narrator's father. She tells of the life of a young girl going to school in a remote part of Ontario where she is considered an oddity because she likes to read. Munro's characters are full of life - sometimes pathos, sometimes humor, but always feeling as though they could be real people.

I really enjoyed reading Alice Munro again and would agree with her publicist, that this "is one of her most essential works."

Armchair Interviews agrees.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars beautiful and unusual family saga June 1 2010
By reader - Published on
This is a family saga, but unusually structured - instead of the characters being carried along by the sweep of history, Alice Munro presents fictionalized vignettes from her family tree in chronological order. Major events - births, deaths, marriages - set the backdrop and are casually alluded to in passing, historical events mentioned almost none at all. The focus is in illuminating interior spaces - hope, loss, resentment, struggle, defeat. The final story - the author's first brush with her own mortality - identifies the connection between the vignettes in the description of how Ontario's landscape was shaped by ancient glaciers moving over the earth. This movement formed a variety of unique, particular, but identifiable formations, separate from each other but connected in their origin by the moving ice, as individuals recognize each other through time.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "We can't resist this rifling around in the past, . . . Nov. 15 2013
By R. M. Peterson - Published on
. . . sifting the untrustworthy evidence, linking stray names and questionable dates and anecdotes together, hanging on to threads, insisting on being joined to dead people and therefore to life."

So writes Alice Munro near the end of THE VIEW FROM CASTLE ROCK. The book is the product of Munro's own rifling around in her past -- both her own life and the lives of her ancestors on her father's side, going back to the Ettrick Valley of Scotland and the late 1700's. Part One contains five pieces relating to Munro's ancestors, including the title story, which she begins with her great-great-great-grandfather taking his son to the top of Castle Rock in Edinburgh and inviting him to look into the distance and see America, commenting "God grant you one day you will see it closer up and for yourself". The old man, along with two of his sons and a daughter, sailed to America in 1818. The six pieces of Part Two pertain to Munro's own life, mostly her girlhood in rural Ontario and later visits as an adult back to her original home.

Thus, THE VIEW FROM CASTLE ROCK is not a conventional book of short stories, the genre for which Munro is renowned. As she says, these stories "pay more attention to the truth of a life than fiction usually does". In the pieces about her forebears she is aided by the journals and letters of her ancestors, and in the stories from her own life she relies on her own recollections - but from this rather prosaic material she fashions a surprisingly engaging and confiding narrative. The book is almost surely the closest thing to a memoir we will ever have from Alice Munro.

Three things stand out. First is the writing itself, which is remarkably unmannered and extraordinarily self-assured. The second is Munro's understanding of people, the inner psychological vulnerabilities that are manifested in the outward behavior. And third is what I sense to be uncommon candor. There seems to be very little burnishing of self-image.

Munro is especially attuned to class distinctions and gradations of wealth. On those scales she and her forebears were among the lower orders. Her immediate family, she says, was poor - in money though not spirit. Here is what she has to say about the fall when she was nineteen, helping at home because her mother was incapacitated from Parkinson's Disease: "I waxed the worn linoleum. I ironed the dishtowels and pyjamas as well as the shirts and blouses, I scoured the battered pots and pans and took steel wool to the blackened metal shelves behind the stove. These were the things that counted then, in the homes of the poor. Nobody thought of replacing what was there, just of keeping everything decent, for as long as possible, and then some. Such efforts kept a line in place, between respectable striving and raggedy defeat."

THE VIEW FROM CASTLE ROCK is a book from the late autumn of one's life -- it was written in 2006, when Munro was seventy-five and after a brush with breast cancer. Thankfully, she remained productive, issuing two more highly acclaimed volumes of short stories, and, of course, she is the most recent winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. THE VIEW FROM CASTLE ROCK is evidence that the award is richly deserved.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where she was from Nov. 18 2010
By E. Kutinsky - Published on
Be warned getting into The View From Castle Rock - it's a stretch to call this a book of short stories. As a long time fan of Munro's work, I had an entirely different experience with this book as I had with my beloved copies of The Love Of A Good Woman or Hateship, Loveship, Courtship, Friendship, Marriage. Munro admits as much in her prologue here - expressing this is a strange fusion of autobiography and short story. Munro begins long long ago, with a view in Scotland of a mythical life in America. The title story here has a sort of fascination, but it's hardly the fascination of the title stories of Hateship of Love of a Good Woman - here, the fascination is Munro's ability to impute personalities on a wide variety of people whose lives and life philosophies are long dead, it's not on telling a compellingly moving "story." In that story, Munro's voice comes in like a quick wind saying save for some letters crossing the ocean, everything has been a product of her imagination. Moving forward in her timeline, Munro's voice becomes more and more the focus of what she wants to explore, and so she does. She tracks her ancestor's journey from Illinois to Canada as a strange exploration of one boy's lost sense of isolation. She explores her mother and father's career with a historian and sociologist's gaze. She moves forward with fascination to her own first kiss, and something lost in herself - the ability of those around her to sense her unease with getting married. She finishes with a trip back to a homeland long lost to her, but realizes her connection to the long dead is a connection to life now, which turns out to be a bit of a deconstruction of why she wrote this book as she did here. I found that point to bring together a great collection of ideas lost, the idea of holding on to less tangible ideas of feelings, justifications, outlooks, and interpretations. For Munro, the intangible is reflected in the world around her and it too changes with the landscape. In the great moments of The View From Castle Rock, you look for clues of what people have seen and interpreted in neutral landscapes with a fascination, with a lifetime of lost ideas continuing to float around in our world.
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars July 6 2014
By Andra F. S, - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Arrived as described. Thanks! A+++++++++
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