Born in Montreal in 1922, Mavis Gallant moved to Paris at the age of twenty-eight with the singular intention to write, promising herself that if she couldn’t make her living from it by the age of thirty, she would give it up. Her single-minded resolution to test her potential not simply as a writer but as the kind of writer she aspired to be have shaped all her major life decisions; her commitment to her craft has come before anything else. And it’s paid off. This new collection of early, chronologically arranged stories reveals the evolution of this brilliant writer and the expansion of what would become her grand subject: ‘the shock of arrival’, as Jhumpa Lahiri puts it in her introduction.
Almost without exception, Gallant’s stories concern foreigners: wanderers, postwar exiles and visitors who drift in and out of countries with expectations that are necessarily shattered. ‘Paul’, Gallant writes in ‘Madeline’s Birthday’ (the first of over a hundred stories the New Yorker has published), ‘had disappointed Mrs Tracy. He