Saturday, April 28, 2012

Reader's Diary #823- Mavis Gallant: Paris Stories

I wouldn't go as far as saying it's a general rule, but it's often the case that the longer I take on a book, of reasonable length, the more likely it means I'm not enjoying it. I'm not one to take the time to savour a good book, but instead I gulp it down almost in one bite. With boring and/or confusing books, I slog through them and only speed up when the end is finally in sight. I started Paris Stories in early March on my way to France.

I was nervous from the very beginning that I was in for a doozy. The introduction was written by none other than Michael Ondaatje. In case you've missed my earlier thoughts on Ondaatje, he and Alice Munro are two of my least favourite Canadian literary darlings. Boring, pretentious. So when Ondaatje started singing Gallant's praises, it wasn't looking good. But he certainly isn't the only one in Gallant's corner. First coming to my attention a few years back when Lisa Moore defended Gallant's From the Fifteenth District on CBC's Canada Reads, it seems that I've been hearing more and more critics pushing to get Gallant the recognition she "deserves." It's not, of course, that Gallant is an obscure writer (she has won a Governor General's Award and is a companion of the Order of Canada), but it seems that many would add a fifth jewel to the Canadian crown of greatness, alongside Atwood, Shield, Munro, and Laurence. Nuts to that. She's gotten more than her fair share.

If I'm not mincing my words, it's because I'm quite exhausted with Gallant's mincing her words. Ondaatje uses a quote from Gallant in which she remarks that she is "uncertain about every line [she] write[s]" to prove that some writers are able to attain greatness because of their tentativeness, as they test each word and line for "falseness" or "complacency." I would agree that some writers seem to do this. I've never known anyone to construct a sentence the way that Atwood does. Yet, like a skilled athlete, Atwood manages to make it look easy and natural. Gallant's trepidation instead instills even more "falsehood." In all of these go nowhere stories, characters over think things, every action is contemplated with a philosophical light, and bizarre comparisons only writers would make somehow comprise the thoughts of every character regardless of their individuality. I couldn't understand or connect with any of the characters in Gallant's stories. I suspect this means that I cannot connect with Gallant herself-- which should be irrelevant.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

We may not agree about Munro, but we are on the same page (forgive the pun) in respect to Gallant. I think I read this book, but I remember nothing about it, because I didn't really pay attention to it.

raidergirl3 said...

longer I take on a book, of reasonable length, the more likely it means I'm not enjoying it. I'm not one to take the time to savour a good book

I may copy that line and use it on my blog as my manifesto. Good line.
I haven't read any Mavis Gallant, but I agree that she is well praised.

Sam said...

That's a great point. There are a few occasions when I find myself taking longer than usual because the material seems to be written a level slightly above my comfort level - making me work harder than I usually do on a book. But that's a bit like exercise for the brain and I appreciate the challenge - within reason. But usually when it happens, it means that I am just not enjoying the book enough to come back to it consistently and have probably already started dipping into two or three others.

Allison said...

So true. If I'm enjoying a book, I'll stop everything (when I can) to finish it.