In the final story in this collection the
narrator refers to her quest to uncover the history of her
relatives saying, "It happens mostly in our old age, when our
personal futures close down and we cannot imagine - sometimes
cannot believe in - the future of our children's children. We
can't resist this rifling around in the past, 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."
This sentiment neatly sums up this collection of linked stories
based loosely on Munro's life and those of her ancestors.
However, she firmly emphasizes that this is fiction with its
roots in fact, not a memoir: "The part of this book that might
be called family history has expanded into fiction, but always
with the outline of a true narrative."
The opening story is set in the present and finds our narrator in Scotland exploring her past. Although this sets the scene very well for the story arc, it is more a collection of anecdotes than a traditional short story with the narrator taking us with her on her explorations as she pieces together snippets from her ancestor's lives lived in the Ettrick Valley during the 17th and 18th centuries. The pace picks up in the second story which is also the title story. Here we meet young Andrew, who is taken by his gently drunk father to the top of Castle Rock in Edinburgh to view America "where every man is sitting in the midst of his own properties, and even the beggars is riding around in carriages." The following three stories see various family members emigrating to North America, first to Illinois and then to Ontario.
The second half of the book, 6 stories grouped under the title "Home" and set in the more recent past, return to Munro's familiar stomping ground of small town Canada, from the viewpoint of a female protagonist. The notable difference being that Munro says that these are "closer to my own life than the other stories I had written, even in the first person ...I was doing something closer to what a memoir does --- exploring a life, but not in an austere or rigorously factual way. I put myself in the center and wrote about that self, as searchingly as I could."
Overall, the first half of this collection is a little different to Munro's usual style, and the more entertaining for it. In the latter half she's on familiar territory but with the twist that she apparently reveals more of herself than in previous collections. However, considering that many of her past stories appear to be biographical to some degree (to the point that at least one wit has commented that she hasn't been writing collections of short stories all these years but instead has been creating one vast fictionalized opus of her own life!) this is not a huge departure from the norm. In other words, if Munro is a writer you have previously enjoyed or have not yet experienced, this maybe one for you, but if her writing has left you cold in the past The View From Castle Rock is unlikely to change your opinion.
This review was originally published in December 2006, and has been updated for the January 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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