A S Byatt

Their Normal Daily Lives Punctuated by Disaster

The Love of a Good Woman


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DO WE EXPERIENCE life as a continuum or as a series of disconnected shocks and accidents? Alice Munro started writing at a time when novelists, at least, were preoccupied with coherence, with motivation, with the unseen grip of repeating compulsions, or the ineluctable effect of social conditions on human aspirations. Munro’s short stories, as I have written before, are extraordinary in that they contain whole lives (which should have taken whole novels) in the brief spaces of tales. She is the great describer of quotidian rhythms – food, embarrassment, clothes, ageing, sex, child-bearing and child-rearing. All lives, and all great fiction, have elements of the probable combined with disruptions and disasters. Munro was always interested both in the texture of the ‘normal’ and the shears that slit it. She still sees and records terrestrial dailyness with precision and glitter. But she seems to be looking from further away. The lovingly described human lives come and go in flashes, punctuated by disaster.

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