Posted by: Corri van de Stege | March 12, 2008

A journey from Scotland to Canada

I have signed up to read and review a short story, once a month.  At A curious singularity.   I almost did not get round to it this month as work and other preoccupations have taken over really badly.  Nevertheless, I was reminded last night and so sat down and reviewed the story – I had read it weeks ago, on one of my train journeys and enjoyed it tremendously, telling myself all the time I would review it this evening or tomorrow evening or….  Well I’ve done it now so here it goes as well:

The view from Castle Rock – A short story by Alice Munro

Although fiction, this story reads like ‘life writing’, at least I imagine that Andrew really existed and that if I go searching I will find his and his family’s gravestones somewhere in Canada.  I am fascinated by the way this story is told, the way Andrew’s life, and that of his relatives, evolves and I am pushed forward to read on.  This surely is story telling at its best.  The characters are real and lifelike and you can smell the sea, the human odours in the cramped condition on the boat, you become part of the noise and the discomfort and you will recognise old James, and the rest of the family, should you ever come across them!

I’ve greatly enjoyed reading this story, in particular because it shows so clearly and so much about writing, good story writing.  Andrew and Walter and the rest of the family become more and more lifelike as they journey from Scotland to America, we see them, hear them, we think we know them and what they are like.

I wanted to prod Walter when Mr Corbet invites him to become a teacher and companion to his daughter Nettie, wanted him to escape from his life, but then he does not and so probably stays true to what and who he is.  This story does not tell about unexpected glamour and greatness, there is none of that and therefore it becomes so much more real. 

And so the end of the story tells us that they are all buried somewhere in Canada, having prospered and lived their lives in their own way in their new homeland. 

It was a real pleasure to read about and become witness of this crossing to a different country, in an era that is now long gone.  Nevertheless, we still do make these journeys, go from native country elsewhere and settle, sometimes come back.  I’ve done it a couple of times.   This story catches the atmosphere and the undercurrents, the slight nervousness of the enterprise, beautifully.  This story has also made me realise how important it is to ‘evoke’ your characters, take pictures of them as you progress further into the narrative.  Alice Munro’s story is excellent – I still think her characters really existed some time, some where and they were just as she showed them to us!


  1. I was sharing in someone else’s blog that I couldn’t let go of that last glimpse of Hong Kong when I left the very first time. This story reminds me of that tender and yet once-in-a-lifetime experience.

  2. Matt: yes, that vivid impression when you leave one country for the next – AND the arrival in that next country… they stay with you for a lifetime!

  3. I enjoyed this story as well, and I particularly liked your phrase about the way she “took pictures” of each of the characters. I felt that way about the story too.

    This story collection is apparently based on Munroe’s reseach into her own family tree, and the branch of her family who immigrated from Scotland. I’m anxious to read the rest of the stories, and see what else happens.

  4. ravenous reader: yes, that explains the vividness of the characters in the story – fiction based on reality and so a kind of life writing…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: