From the age of twenty-eight, Mavis Gallant lived and wrote in Europe, writing about “Canadians, Americans, Australians, Eastern and Western Europeans and their distinctive social and cultural milieux”: she was “a citizen of the world”.
On the edge of beginning a deliberate reading and rereading of her stories, I peeked into Janice Kulyk Keefer’s Reading Mavis Gallant (1989).
Janice Kulyk Keefer’s The Green Library is an outstanding novel, and I keep her Rest Harrow on my shelf of old favourite reads (with other delightfully bookish stories about women who try to disappear into the English countryside to write, in this case a biography of Virginia Woolf).
So I was looking forward to her thoughts on the stories, but her approach is a little too academic for my taste. Perhaps I will enjoy reading it more once I’ve reread some of the stories.
Nonetheless, she has some interesting thoughts about the author in general. Observing, for instance, that she is an intruiging person, though one who seems sworn to a cult of impersonality.
JKK contrasts this with Alice Munro and Margaret Laurence, who are “well-loved”, whose fictions focus on creating a “trusting intimacy” between narrator and reader, whereas Gallant is “respected and relished” but from a “considerable distance”.
So although she wants to acquaint readers with the “impressive range and scope and the unsettling force” of Gallant’s work, she also recommends savouring her work “in small doses” because “reading the entirety of her fiction can be like downing a bottle of the finest vinegar”.
Even with only a smattering of experience with Mavis Gallant’s stories, I can say that my experience is different; if the quality I have found there (which I would term authenticity) is indeed vinegary than I will happily store the bottles alongside the astringent works of Alice Munro, Margaret Laurence, Olive Senior and Edna O’Brien. All astute chroniclers of women’s experiences in life and love.
In an interview with Geoff Hancock in Canadian Fiction Magazine (1978), Mavis Gallant wondered about how her life as a woman might have taken a different turn, specifically if she had remained in Canada.
“Had I remained in Canada, I would have become one of those frustrated housewives who would like to write and wouldn’t. I would read books and listen to music and take night school courses and say to other sensitive housewives who would like to write books and don’t, ‘Have you read the latest Muriel Spark’?”
I’ll be watching for remnants of that frustrated housewife as I read along in The Other Paris, with her shelves filled with bottles of fine vinegar, aged and imported and treasured.
Next week, I’ll begin sharing my responses to the stories. Please let me know if you like the idea of joining in, and I will share the schedule privately as I read along.
Contents: The Other Paris / Autumn Day / Poor Franzi / Going Ashore / The Picnic / The Deceptions of Marie-Blanche / Wing’s Chips / The Legacy / One Morning in June / About Geneva / Senor Pinedo / A Day Like Any Other