I had been so looking forward to Alice Munro’s only novel, Lives of Girls and Women, which has recently been republished by Vintage. First published in 1971, Lives of Girls and Women was the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. The whole is split into several named parts, each of which can essentially function as a short story in its own right, and follows the protagonist Del Jordan during her formative years.
Throughout, Del grows up within the small town of Jubilee in Ontario. The choice which Munro has made to sculpt Del’s own voice, and her use of the first person perspective with which to do so, has been used to excellent effect. Her past and present have been marvellously layered, and she certainly feels like a realistic character in consequence. Munro’s other characters are, on the whole, multi-faceted, and their differences set them apart from one another, rendering them distinctive beings. The sense of place within the tale has been well evoked too, and Munro is just as perceptive here as in her short stories. One can certainly tell that she is more used to writing stories than novels; there is almost a concertina-like effect here, in that one sub-story leads into another, and so on.
Munro is one of my absolute favourite short story authors, and I was expecting such marvellous things from Lives of Girls and Women. Despite the strengths which I have outlined above, sadly, I found myself rather disappointed. Whilst I loved the novel’s premise, the piece lost itself somewhere around the middle, and never really picked up the pace again. Rather than the four or five star rating which I felt sure I was going to give it, I shall have to settle for a middle-of-the-road three.