Open a book this minute and start reading. Don’t move until you’ve reached page fifty. Until you’ve buried your thoughts in print. Cover yourself with words. Wash yourself away. Dissolve. Carol Shields Republic of Love

Beginning Mavis Gallant’s The Other Paris (1986)

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”.

Gallant Other ParisOn 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

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10 comments to Beginning Mavis Gallant’s The Other Paris (1986)

  • Oh, I love this. Geoff Hancock has a real talent for drawing out interesting thoughts in interviews – wish he was still doing them. I really like Gallant’s writing, it’s much more to my taste than Alice Munro’s style. So I guess I like that touch of vinegar 😉

    • I think, in the past, I always felt rather the opposite, feeling a natural affinity for Munro’s stories, even though when I read Gallant’s I admired them too. But now I’m struck by the similarities and it seems an impossible choice to make. I’m curious how I’ll feel if I do manage to read all of Gallant’s stories…

  • I LOVE that analogy – “reading the entirety of her fiction can be like downing a bottle of the finest vinegar.” I’ve not read Gallant or Munro but now I feel that I should try both 🙂

    • There is a dark chocolate truffle made by Soma, a local shop in Toronto, which contains balsamic vinegar, and that’s the only way I can begin to understand JKK’s comment. Otherwise it seems too harsh, even with the desciptor ‘finest’! Although I do like to imagine Mavis Gallant with a chocolate truffle on a small plate next to her writing desk.

  • Ive never heard of Gallant – did she write novels or short stories only (I struggle to get into those)……

    • She wrote at least one novel (Kaggsy has a copy of it – she might remember the title!) but she is definitely known for her short stories, so perhaps she’s someone you’d rather leave on the shelf. Although, she has some story cycles which return to the same character, for four or five stories at a time, so you might enjoy those?

  • I have a copy of The Collected Stories of Mavis Gallant, published in 1996 by Everyman’s Library. It contains about half of her stories and is just over 1000 pages. I like the old world feel of her works. I will read along with you on the works included in the book i have. I will check out Janice Keefer, a new to me writer.

    • That one arranges the stories by the time period in which they’re set, I think? There aren’t many of her first collection’s stories in there, seemingly. Looks like only “The Other Paris” and “Senor Pinedo” from The Other Paris; I’m reading “The Other Paris” again this weekend, and I’ll post next Tuesday. (I quite liked that one.) I think there are two from her next (My Heart is Broken) and three from the third (if I’m seeing them all). Not many, really, but maybe the later stories are just that much stronger? Janice Kulyk Keefer’s The Green Library has some of that old-world-European feel to it too, and the same sense of sorrowful longing that some of Gallant’s heroines seem to have, but it’s a novel; I don’t think JKK has written much short fiction (one collection maybe).

  • […] the rules of the clinics are described as being in Mr. Kennedy’s favour. Mavis Gallant is not all vinegar: she certainly does have a sense of […]

  • I was able to acquire Janice Kulyk Keefer’s The Ladies’ Lending Librsry for sale at $1,95. I love books about people reading books and as I know you admire her book I bought it. Will get to it soon. Looking forward to being able to read along in Mavis Gallant

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