A Nobel in due season for Alice Munro

The author graces the prize as much as it honours her, writes Brian Bethune

Alice Munro has never had many peers nationally or internationally, and those who come to mind—Mavis Gallant for mastery of the short-story form, Margaret Atwood for international stature, Jane Austen for finding a universe of meaning in a geographical nutshell—are icons themselves. Munro has rarely, if ever, made a headline for anything other than literary achievement; she works within a genre that lost its heyday, along with its delivery vehicle, the monthly general-interest magazine, long before she began her career; and she mines a human and physical landscape, southwestern Ontario, that was notoriously described by another of its famous children, John Kenneth Galbraith, as “devoid of topographic, ethnic or historical interest.”

Yet we have all found her out, and from the very beginning. Her characters, the craft of her language, her moments of blinding clarity, her extraordinary emotional intelligence make Munro’s rural women and girls universally recognizable and sympathetic, understandable even—one of a great feminist writer’s great achievements—to men. Her debut story collection, Dance of the Happy Shades, won the Governor General’s award in 1968. The first of three GGs. The 20 Giller prize winners include only three short-story collections; Munro authored two of them. Then the Man Booker Prize gave her a lifetime achievement award.

Now the Nobel Prize, the first Canadian and only the 13th woman ever named for the world’s preeminent literary accolade. The Nobel, which is never given posthumously, arrives in due season for a writer, frail at 82, and unlikely to write again. Alice Munro graces it as much as it honours her.

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