Review: Open Secrets by Alice Munro

PAPERBACK; 293 P.
VINTAGE, 2007/1994
SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

Ranging from the 1850s through two world wars to the present, and from Canada to Brisbane, the Balkans and the Somme, these dazzling stories reveal the secrets of unconventional women who refuse to be contained.

 

Alice Munro, “master of the contemporary short story”, is a Canadian author who in 2013 won the Nobel Prize in Literature and subsequently became one of the most read and talked about author for that year. Munro has had a long and prolific career, ranging from the 1960s to this decade, and she is considered as one of the best writers alive. Her short stories have been recommended to me time and again, so once I saw Open Secrets with its miscellaneous buttons on the cover, I decided to finally give her writing a go. And it was worth it.

Open Secrets is Alice Munro’s 8th short story collection and it was published in 1994. The blurb at the back is very mysterious and slightly non-committal, but having read the book, it actually manages to capture the one thing that connects these stories together: unconventional women and freedom. The stories in this collection tell of women of various ages and places, of various situations in life and various approaches to the significant and insignificant issues. One of the stories features an accidental letter exchange between a librarian and a soldier and the expectations that arise when he is due to return from the war. Another follows a woman that trails down her ex-husband to the other side of the world, and another a woman captured by a native tribe and being assimilated to their lifestyle.

I loved Alice Munro’s style and the craft with which she constructs her stories. The switching between different characters and time periods and the subtle indications of mood and emotion won me over completely. Occasionally the sparsity of the words brought to mind one of my favourites, Tove Jansson, who also had the talent to set the tone and mood of the characters in just a few lines. My favourites short stories in Open Secrets were Carried Away, Spaceships Have Landed and A Wilderness Station – the intricate structure and flow of narration in those was incredible. However, there were also some things that put a damper on my mood. In some of the other stories I loved the beginning but my love started dwindling slowly as the story went on and on. And although the stories share some common elements, I would have preferred to have a bit more coherence. Upon reading the collection, the stories didn’t appear to have any connecting features – only the occasional mentions of the town Carstairs.

In the end, although I fell in love with Munro’s writing, I didn’t think the collection was a very strong one and that I wouldn’t recommend that you start from Open Secrets. However, if you do like Alice Munro, I think you’ll also love this one. I’d definitely recommend that you check out Munro (maybe starting from her most recent one Dear Life?) even if you aren’t a fan of short stories. She has something for everyone.

3.5/5

He was pleasantly mystified by the thought of grown people coming and going here, steadily reading books. Week after week, one book after another, a whole life long. He himself read a book once in a while, when somebody recommended it, and usually he enjoyed it, and then he read magazines, to keep up with things, and never thought about reading a book until another one came along, in this almost accidental way.

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2 thoughts on “Review: Open Secrets by Alice Munro

  1. Your last line chimed with me, as I’m not a fan of short stories at all, but I love Alice Munro. I made myself read one of her collections and it’s like she gets the depth of a full novel into each story, and creates characters that linger in the mind afterwards. Great post!

    • Thank you for your kind words!
      I agree, Alice Munro’s short stories feel like full length novels. Her stories all had an odd element of mystery around them, so I often felt tempted to re-read the story directly after finishing it.

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