Canadian writer Alice Munro, Nobel Prize winner in 2013, died yesterday at 92

Canadian writer Alice Munro, Nobel Prize winner in 2013, died yesterday at 92
Canadian writer Alice Munro, Nobel Prize winner in 2013, died yesterday at 92

DISAPPEARANCE – Sometimes compared to Chekhov, she wrote very delicate short stories about ordinary people.

In a text published on November 14, 2004 in the New York TimesJonathan Franzen, the author of Fixes, urged his peers to take an interest in the great lady of North American letters, Alice Munro, whose aura was immense in her country, but less perceptible beyond. The title of the article was eloquent: “ Read Munro! Read Munro! »

Read alsoFor Olivier Cohen, “Alice Munro reinvented the short story”

This cry from the heart had perhaps carried all the way to Stockholm where the jurors of the most prestigious literary prize in the world had decided this year 2013 to crown a woman (the thirteenth in just over a century!). The Swedish Academy had two categories of writers to choose from: literary ones like Alice Munro and the American Joyce Carol Oates; and the ” politically engaged » like the French-speaking Algerian Assia Djebar or the Belarusian Svetlana Alexievitch. By electing Alice Munro, the best short story author in the world, she put the spotlight back on a genre – the short story, prized in Anglo-Saxon countries and widely despised everywhere else.

The secrets, the betrayals

This discreet and secretive woman was born on July 10, 1931 in Wingham, a small town on the shores of Lake Huron, in Ontario, Canada. The Nobel biography is sober: it says that her mother was a professor and her father a farmer. She thus forgets the essentials: a puritan family, the illness and then death of the mother, the violence of the father who starts a new life with a difficult woman. Young Alice is curious and intelligent. She chooses writing because she senses, at a very young age, that her life is here and nowhere else. Later, she will confirm this choice in one sentence: “ I have no other talents, I am not intellectual and do poorly as a housewife. »

She published her first short story in a magazine at age 18 while she was a student at the University of Ontario. She stopped her studies a year later to marry James Munro, settle in Vancouver and give him four daughters. In 1963, the couple moved to Victoria, British Columbia, and opened a bookstore called Munro’s Books. Five years later, Munro published his first collection of short stories, The Dance of Happy Shadows which already contains most of the themes of his future work: parent-child relationships, male-female relationships, secrets, betrayals, the passage of time, missed opportunities, illness and death.

Read alsoFive books by Alice Munro

In 1972, the Munro couple ceased to exist. Alice returns to Ontario. Here again, what she experiences feeds her stories. His following collections (published in France by Albin Michel, Rivages and, since 2008, by Éditions de l’Olivier) found immense public response and critical respect in Canada. She thus won three times the most prestigious Canadian prize, the Governor General’s Literary Award. She is said to be the Canadian Chekhov or even the Canadian Carver. She is above all the artist whose talent for capturing the upheavals of life, small and large, the moments of rupture, is unique in its mastery, its elegance. In his stories, women’s lives parade, without particular relief. Their names are Juliet, Robin, Nancy, Eileen. Life has not spared them. Lonely, unmarried, separated, they accept their mistakes until the day the dikes burst and the temptation to flee overwhelms them. Leaving is the only choice to save your skin and try to start everything from scratch. Even if it means making the same mistakes again.

Looking for the smallest flaws

In the immense Canadian landscapes, snowy forests, frozen meadows, aboard cars or trains, they move towards their destiny. Do they suspect that it is often too late for another life, another love?
Although Munro smiles nicely in the photos, don’t be fooled. This woman didn’t let anything go. She searched, dug, looking for the slightest faults, cracks. Like her, all her heroines have in common a desire to understand the past, to “ open it to see once and for all what is in its belly. » Freedom is at this price. Escape from loved ones and reproaches, from family, from its burdens. And it’s when we believe that everything is going to get better that violence breaks out with the suddenness of a storm. And everything is said. The reasons for sorrow, the causes of discomfort, the blows of fate. We do not come away unscathed from this reading.

In 1976, Alice Munro married the geographer Gerald Fremlin with whom she lived until the latter’s death in April 2013. In 2007, the young Canadian director Sarah Polley brought to the screen the short story Far from her, with the magnificent Julie Christie in the role of Fiona, a woman who is losing her mind and whom her husband of half a century decides to place in an institution. Will he finally breathe, live or stay with her? In 2009, Alice Munro received the Man Booker Prize, the most prestigious Anglo-Saxon prize for her collection Too much happiness. She takes the opportunity to reveal her long fight against cancer, an illness suffered by the heroine of one of her latest short stories published in February 2008 in the New Yorker.

At 82, the great lady of North American letters confided that her fourteenth collection of short stories, Dear Lifepublished in Canada and the United States in 2012, published in France in 2014 under the title Nothing but life, could be his last book. She mentioned the example of her American cadet Philip Roth, 80 years old, an unsuccessful Nobel candidate, who had just announced that he was stopping writing. Alice Munro was the second Canadian-born writer to win the Nobel Prize, after the great Saul Bellow in 1976.

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