Man Booker International Prize winner

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Too Much Happiness – Alice Munroe

Published September 14, 2014 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

Ten superb new stories by one of our most beloved and admired writers—the winner of the 2009 Man Booker International Prize.

With clarity and ease, Alice Munro once again renders complex, difficult events and emotions into stories about the unpredictable ways in which men and women accommodate and often transcend what happens in their lives.

In the first story a young wife and mother, suffering from the unbearable pain of losing her three children, gains solace from a most surprising source. In another, a young woman, in the aftermath of an unusual and humiliating seduction, reacts in a clever if less-than-admirable fashion. Other tales uncover the “deep-holes” in a marriage, the unsuspected cruelty of children, and, in the long title story, the yearnings of a nineteenth-century female mathematician.

What did I think?:

I have heard the name Alice Munro around a lot, but it wasn’t until she won the Man Booker International Prize in 2009 and the Nobel Prize for Literature that I really became interested in trying some of her work. I didn’t make this collection part of my Short Stories Challenge as once I started the book I just wanted to read the entire thing at once as the beauty of her writing spoke for itself. There are ten stories in this collection and each one features one or more of the characters (usually a woman) dealing with an unusual amount of emotion in their life, for one reason or another. I’m not going to go through each of the stories, this post would turn into an essay! Instead, I’m just going to focus on a couple of my favourites.

The first story, Dimensions was definitely my favourite of the bunch. It introduces us to a female main character Doree who we become curious about right from the start. She has changed her name, regularly sees a psychiatrist and visits her husband Lloyd in prison which she finds an incredibly daunting prospect. It turns out that her relationship with Lloyd through the years they have been married has been slightly traumatic. Lloyd peeled away every inch of her self-esteem and hurled emotional abuse at her at any given opportunity. Why is he in prison and what is the big secret the author keeps from us until the last moment? I can’t say, but it was dark, dramatic and beautifully executed.

Free Radicals was also a knee-trembler of a story. A recently widowed woman is relaxing in her house when a madman manages to get in and announces that he has just killed his parents and his disabled sister. There is the danger that she may be next but our main character remains stoic and remarkably calm considering the circumstances. By the end of the story, she imparts a secret of her own…

Another favourite of mine was Child’s Play, where an old woman (Marlene) looks back on her childhood, one memory in particular still disturbs her. It regards a girl that used to live in the same house as her called Verna who continually tried to be-friend her, at some points becoming quite desperate, however Verna was slightly deficient mentally and filled Marlene with feelings of disgust:

“I suppose I hated her as some people hate snakes or caterpillars or mice or slugs. For no decent reason. Not for any certain harm she could do but for the way she could disturb your innards and make you sick of your life.”

She attends summer camp with one of her best friends and is dismayed to discover that Verna is there also. Then things turn a little bit darker with a gripping finale that will have your eyes practically glued to the pages to find out what happens. Well,  that’s what happened to mine anyway.

It is obvious that Alice Munro is a true master of the short story, she is precise, deadly accurate and the timing of the “huge events” in these few stories is executed with perfection. Yes, there were a few stories that I didn’t really get on with (Wood, Too Much Happiness, Fiction) hence the three star rating but I cannot deny that while I didn’t enjoy these tales as much, I really appreciated her writing style and her obvious ease with words. I will definitely be checking out some of her other work.

Would I recommend it?:


Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art