The View from Castle Rock: Stories

by Alice Munro

Hardcover, 2006




Knopf, (2006)


A collections of stories about the Laidlaw family starting in the wilds of the Scottish Borders, their voyage to Canada, to stories set in Alice (Laidlaw) Munro's present time.

Media reviews

Alice Munro's new book, The View from Castle Rock, is a delightful fraud. Whether through failure of imagination on her publisher's part, or a lack of confidence in the reader, or a shrewd authorial gambit, it is offered as a book of "Stories", the author's eleventh. But it is something else, a major achievement, and an exciting revitalisation of a somewhat exhausted genre. Resounding flyleaf rhetoric issues a denial: "So is this a memoir? No." Well, yes. It is. It is a memoir as only Alice Munro could write it.

User reviews

LibraryThing member brenzi
I may be the luckiest person on earth. I've just discovered a writer, who is prolific, and whose writing is astoundingly beautiful and I now have her whole oeuvre to explore at my leisure. I'm looking at you Alice Munro. What a Christmas present I have given to, er, myself!

The most recent Nobel Laureate mined her family's history to come up with the linked stories contained in this collection. From the time her great-great-great-great grandfather stood on Edinburgh Castle Rock and heard his father tell him that on a clear day you could see America, we follow Alice's ancestors in 1818 as they cross the Atlantic to Canada and bear the hardships that other pioneer families before them have also borne. From there on she pivots to a first person narrative and tells of the life of a young girl as she grows into adulthood in the shadow of Lake Huron in northern Ontario. And towards the end of the book, as Alice is investigating cemeteries in Ontario, trying to hone in on family burial plots, the author tells us:

"It is difficult to make such requests in reference libraries because you will often be asked what it is, exactly, that you want to know, and what do you want to know it for? Sometimes, it is even necessary to write your reason down. If you are doing a paper, a study, you will of course have a good reason, but what if you are just interested? The best thing, probably, is to say you are probably doing a family history. Librarians are used to people doing that---particularly people who have gray hair---and it is generally thought to be a reasonable way of spending one's time. Just interested sounds apologetic, if not shifty, and makes you run the risk of being seen as an idler lounging around in the library, a person at loose ends, with no proper direction in life, nothing better to do." (Page 326)

It is through the most ordinary people that we come to know this writer of exceptional ability. And I am very lucky to have her whole oeuvre ahead of me. Very highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member writestuff
The View From Castle Rock is an interesting combination of fiction and truth - Alice Munro delves into her family background, digging up her ancestors and her childhood to create a series of linked stories which explore family connections, poverty, adversity and understanding of ordinary lives as part of a bigger history.

The collection begins deep in the Ettrick Valley, just south of Edinburgh Scotland. Munro visits a cemetery on a cold, rainy day and locates the headstones of her relatives. In this first story, the reader is introduced posthumously to the characters who will make up future stories in the collection.

Each new story moves the reader further into the present. In the title story: ‘The View From Castle Rock‘…Munro gives the reader a glimpse into what prompted the emmigration of her family from Scotland to Canada. A young boy follows his intoxicated father up the steep, uneven stone steps of an ancient castle and onto a roofless tower.

'The sun was out now, shining on the stone heap of houses and streets below them, and the churches whose spires did not reach to this height, and some little trees and fields, then a wide silvery stretch of water. And beyond that a pale green and grayish-blue land, part in the sunlight and part in the shadow, a land as light as mist, sucked into the sky.

“So did I not tell you?” Andrew’s father said. “America. It is only a little bit of it, though, only the shore. There is where every man is sitting in the midst of his own properties, and even the beggars is riding around in carriages.” -From The View From Castle Rock, page 30-'

Munro’s strength in these early stories is her ability to set place and time for the reader. She writes lush descriptions and peoples her prose with complex characters. When Walter, a young boy aboard a ship bound for America, writes in his journal ‘And this night in the year 1818 we lost sight of Scotland‘ the reader feels the anticipation as well as the sadness of saying good-bye to one’s homeland in search of a better life. Munro uses real documents (such as Walter’s journal) to help piece together the history of her family and there are times when it is difficult to ascertain what is fact and what is fiction.

Munro completes part I of her collection with the story ‘Working For A Living‘ which recollects of her father’s boyhood in the town of Blyth. Part II introduces Munro herself to the collection in the story ‘Fathers‘ - a painful look at the fine line between discipline and abuse and a girl’s relationship with her father.

‘Lying Under the Apple Tree‘ is about the coming of age of a young girl…the innocence of youth vanquished. The ideas of God, church values (morality) and sin weave themselves through this story. Munro also skillfully introduces nature into her theme of growing up and the recognition of one’s sexuality. Her use of dirt as a symbol is effective in introducing the concept of sex vs. a girl’s fantasies vs. the realities of love.

In ‘Hired Girl‘ Munro continues to explore the idea of a young woman on the cusp of adulthood. In addition she builds on the idea of place - physical place vs. one’s place in society. This concept of there being barriers between classes, is one of the main themes of Munro’s collection and in ‘Hired Girl‘ she emphasizes this idea.

The final stories of Munro’s collection are dedicated to her early marriage (’The Ticket‘), and her maturation into a woman who is capable of looking at her history and life in the harsh light of reality (’Home‘ and ‘What Do You Want to Know For?‘). Munro’s recollections of her father in his later years and the home where she grew up being modernized, are touching exposes on what it means to finally be an adult and no longer be protected by the innocence of childhood. Munro writes:
'The past needs to be approached from a distance. -From The View From Castle Rock, page 332-'

The View From Castle Rock does that - in exploring her roots, Munro has succeeded in creating a unique blend of stories which look at one family’s history in the context of a bigger picture of what it means to live on the edge of poverty, connect to family, and create a life with meaning and understanding.

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LibraryThing member tripleblessings
Very interesting, enjoyable. This collection of short stories is fiction, but based on Munro's research into her own family history, and her own life. The stories are arranged in chronological order, from the Scottish ancestors who dreamed of emigrating to Canada, those who made the harrowing sea voyage, pioneers in southern Ontario, and on to Munro's own family. The specifics appeal to me, but the emotional content and family relationships are universal. Alice Munro's writing is conversational, accessible, and beautifully descriptive. The stories are snapshots of different people at different times in history, and some people appear in only one story, making me want to know more about them and what happened next. Some people are only dimly known, while others are more completely portrayed. Some, I suspect, are portraits of real people, with a few names and details changed to avoid lawsuits! I enjoyed the connections with my own family history - Scottish immigrants in the 1800s, first land-owners clearing farms in Ontario, the education, dating and marriage of a young woman in the 1930s to 1950s Ontario (the same age as my parents), one story where Munro was the maid at a cottage on Georgian Bay. Later stories portray the different generations of her family, caring for her parents, becoming elderly, a breast cancer scare, a first and second marriage, her father remarrying after his first wife died from Parkinson's. This is a very good book, and I know I will re-read it every few years. I will also give a copy to my mother, and recommend it to other family members in Ontario.… (more)
LibraryThing member 1morechapter
This was my first book by Alice Munro, who was named as the 2009 Man Booker International Prize winner. This book of stories is a personal, though fictional, history of her family’s emigration from Scotland and their settlement in Canada. It was on the NYT Notable Book list in 2007.

Munro illustrated the struggles of her ancestor immigrants very well. Though I am of German ancestry, I know many of my great-grandparents had many of the same challenges when they settled in Nebraska from Germany. (I would soooo love to read a fictionalized account of their story!)

I enjoyed this book very much, but some may find it a little slow and boring in parts. I’m very interested in family histories of immigration, so I appreciated both the stories and Munro’s writing. I have to wonder, though, were all European immigrants a little hard and cold? Perhaps just the act of survival took all their energy.
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LibraryThing member Niecierpek
Munro says with emphasis, ‘These are stories.’ But, this collection is the closest one could imagine short stories come to a memoir. Sure, Munro can’t help herself and adds some unusual events to spice her narration up and to make the mundane and anticlimactic more dramatic. She does it in the same way she made her boring summer job as a maid much more dramatic than it really was in her letter to a friend in her short story, ‘Hired Girl’, and she calls everything short stories. The story of her family’s immigration from Scotland to Canada and their settlement is necessarily fictionalization, even though she had three generations of writers to fall back on as well. There was always at least one writer, or chronicler per generation in her family. Even her father wrote not only his memoir, but tried his hand at novel writing as well. When we come to more contemporary times what the stories reflect is probably a fairly accurate rendering of some episodes of her own life plus an electrocution here and a gun shot in the barn somewhere else. But, aren’t all memoirs like that? Don’t people spice things up to make them more interesting? Even when they think they are accurate and true to the facts, they still present their own version of them. She put the tales she wanted to tell in a short story format, since it is the form she feels most comfortable with, but this is what it is: a memoir with some added flesh on the bones.
I didn’t fall in love with this collection right away. Apart from the introduction, the initial stories were interesting, but not at all as gripping as the stories by Munro in general are for me. They were not exploratory in a psychological sense; they were much more ventures into the family history realms. As I progressed through it though, and got to the times more contemporary to mine, I found more of the Munro I know with her elegant sentences and suave and insightful observations.

The image of Scottish immigrants was an interesting one for me. It showed the way of life influenced by their Presbyterian variety of the Christian faith: industrious, stern, modest, concentrated on not falling out of line, not standing out. My Catholic country experience is different- people in the country where I grew up were much more bawdy, flamboyant, liked to drink (too much most of the time) and to dance, and had no problem showing off whatever best they had in church on Sunday. Interestingly, Munro’s father’s second wife, who is Irish, glaringly stands out with her openness, desire for the unusual and the gossip, and her bawdiness.

I also found quite a bit of the history and images of rural and small town Southern Ontario- not exactly my place, but landscapes I know very well and travel through- that is rendered well. What drew my attention was the number of cemeteries in the book. I tried to find some of them, and what startled me when I was looking through the webpages of some old local ones was that some of them are on tiny plots smack in the middle of the town I live in surrounded by houses, plazas, roads and new subdivisions. There is actually one very close to where I live sandwiched between a road on one side and an Indian restaurant and Blockbuster on the other. Somebody’s ancestors.
Munro conveys the feeling of a river of time and the insignificance of individual experience and how individual life becomes history and part of a bigger whole somehow through them.

She is thinking of death, looking at her roots, getting rooted herself as well, and it’s her farewell too. By the end of the book she puts it into such an observation,
‘We are beguiled. It happens mostly in our old age, when our personal futures close down and we cannot imagine- sometimes cannot believe in- the future of our children’s children. We cannot resist this rifling around in the past, sifting the untrustworthy evidence, linking stray names and questionable dates and anecdotes together, hanging on to threads, insisting on being joined to dead people and therefore to life.”
It’s apparent throughout the collection, and to add to it, in the interviews to promote this collection she said she didn’t think she wasn’t going to publish any more collections. She is not very old yet at all- she is only 76.
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LibraryThing member VivienneR
Munro has played with the truth, mixing in a little fiction here and there, and it succeeds admirably. This collection of short stories begins with some family history in Scotland followed with her Canadian experiences. The writing conveys stories that are sincere and painfully candid, stories of ordinary people who made an unforgettable impression on a young woman, who is recounting her history. If the reader is unfamiliar with Alice Munro, this might not be the best place to start. However, the writing has that unmistakable Munro excellence.… (more)
LibraryThing member janeajones
Alice Munro's The View from Castle Rock (2006) is a collection of stories about her family's journey from Edinburgh's Castle Rock to settle and farm in Ontario. Drawing from accounts written by family members, she re-imagines the experiences of those she never knew and examines and ponders the lives of her grandparents and parents and her own adolescence in the late 40s and early 50s. Munro would have been a slightly younger contemporary of Gabrielle Roy's Florentine LaCasse in The Tin Flute (1945), but her rural, Anglicized life, though affected by the hardships of the Depression, was a far cry from the urban, grinding, hardscrabble life faced by the Lacasses in Montreal.… (more)
LibraryThing member mojacobs
I hugely enjoyed this book, and I was very impressed with it too. It's not often that a book lives up to the compliments on the blurb- this one does, and how.
Munro has - as so many of us seem to do when we get older - investigated her own family background, and she has woven beautiful stories around the facts she gathered. These stories, starting with her ancestors in Scotland, continuing with the settlers in Canada, and later her own youth, make wonderful and inspirational reading.”… (more)
LibraryThing member Periodista
This collection deserves five-star plus, as probably all Alice Munro's books do. She's been inspired to write this series from what she knows about her own family history.

Not only were ancestors 19th century immigrants from Scotland to rugged Ontario. She's even been able to find some scraps about the family back in Scotland. There's always been a chronicler somewhere along the line, she says. They're in different styles, though, and from different points of view.

I wish I had written down some passages, as I usually do with her. But one story, "Hired Girl," close to our time, particularly resonated with me. If it's taking place when Munro was a teenager, I guess that would be the 1940's or early 1950's. The character is sort of a farm girl; we'd guess from a previous story that her father was a trapper turned fox farmer turned factory watchman. From the country anyway.

She gets a summer job helping out in a household on a lake. Rich city people's summer getaway. She's quite isolated, doesn't have any friends or co-workers. Very delicately, Murno conveys how this character learns about class differences. The mother of the house (consciously) and the young daughter (semi-deliberately?) enforce the lines. Class is such a crude word, though. Differences.

Our main charater of course is a voracious reader and happens upon a book the robust daddy of the house has been reading, Nine Gothic Tales. The mother shrugs off such a strange book, she wasn't able to get far in it. Father can't articulate what he likes about it. But near the end of the story, he comes to the boathouse, where our character sleeps, to give her the book in private, beyond his wife's eyes.

Finally, our heretofore harmless heroine also learns this summer to wield the dagger of cruelty herself--on the matron of the house of course. She's going to be much more adept than that woman could ever be.
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LibraryThing member solicitouslibrarian
Alice Munro is at her best when writing about her past, or so I think. These essays are very rich and enjoyable to read. To use a word my friend Rachel detests, they were very relatable. Munro very often paints herself out of the pictures she presents to us, yet we can still see her there, the way she must have stood out growing up. I do regret buying the book as opposed to borrowing it from a library. I don't think I can re-read these essays.… (more)
LibraryThing member lois1
Some stories were great for me but others very boring so it took me a long time to read; I was often not engaged.
LibraryThing member mana_tominaga
This collection of short stories by one of Canada’s most prominent writers reads more like autobiographical snippets, personal histories laden with genealogical research details.
LibraryThing member AJBraithwaite
It's not often that I don't finish a book, but I couldn't finish this one. It is the first Alice Munro book I've opened.

It struck me as a self-indulgent piece of writing. The sort of thing that a first-time author couldn't get away with, but that a well-established 'name' is allowed to do because the publisher knows it will sell anyway.

Or perhaps I'm being unkind. The writing was fine - nothing to complain about there - but the fictionalised family history just didn't engage me.
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LibraryThing member francesanngray
I loved this book. Because she is 'from around here' Alice Munro's stories have always been very special to me. I especially liked the penultimate story "What Do You Want To Know For" where she describes her visit to the Regional Reference room at the university near her. (pp. 325-6).
LibraryThing member OccassionalRead
This is Alice Munro's most autobiographical collection of short stories. Some of the early stories in the book stem from research she was conducting on the history of her family. The characters are her ancestors who came from Scotland to settle in Western Canada. Munro seems to have inherited a writing gene as several of her forebears had the gift of words and had even published in their time. These family histories are well imagined while grounded in reality. Her great, great, great grandparents lived the hard and short lives of the early settlers to North America. The latter half of the stories in this collection revolve around a young Alice Munro and her more immediate family - parents and grandparents (though her grandfather did not live long enough for her to get to know well). They're deeply personal and Alice honestly presents herself as a young girl and woman, warts and all. There's a connection between the centuries because the family's roots remained agrarian and poor, though her father began the process of severing, though not entirely eliminating, these ties. The stories, spanning centuries and generations, chronicle change and transformation, in the land and in lives.… (more)
LibraryThing member oldblack
I didn't like this (audio) book at first, but by the time it ended I was feeling much more positive. Partly this was due to the reader's lousy Scottish accent which dominated the first story, but partly it was also due to the fact that the stories followed an historical time line, finishing close to the 'here-and-now'...and that's the time I relate to best. I was, however, impressed by Munro's writing throughout. It's really weird, but I although liked the last story best I find it very difficult to say what the story was all about, let alone say why I liked it so much. I can say that Alice Munro seems to write very well about the subtle aspects of relationships. She obviously perceives the small details of interactions between people and understands what the code of unspoken language really means.… (more)
LibraryThing member jon1lambert
I got completely bogged down in the first hundred pagesof this book as the Laidlaw family (Munro was a Laidlalw) as they migrated themselves from the Ettrick Valley in Scotland to Canada. I found the section on her Mum and Dud just like wading through treacle too - but then in the last third there were these brilliant insight into family relationships, memory, hiow we are connected to the dead, our ancestors - and a really good assessment of a librarian etc.… (more)
LibraryThing member abirdman
Magnificent. There's more substance to a Munro short story than there is in most novels. The opening story sequence, about her ancestors emigration to Canada from Scotland, is profound and deeply moving.
LibraryThing member EBT1002
This is my first collection of stories by Nobel winner Munro and it will not be my last. The first chapter is a bit weirdly filled with details but the totality is a truly pleasurable read. Built with the frame of a family history, the stories build upon one another until suddenly they don't, and then they wrap back around again. Written as if autobiographical, although Munro insists "these are stories" in her forward, they bring insight and poignancy to the generations and branches of an extended family, starting with their emigration from Scotland, escorting us through their settlement and moving around Canada, and evolving through the near-current day which lands us firmly in Ontario. Munro is a master of the moment: the brief verbal or nonverbal exchange between two people, the grief associated with loss and transition as it is captured by a piece of furniture or a landscape, the quiet thoughts of a character in between scenes. Definitely recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member tangledthread
In this collection of stories, Alice Munro explores the history of her Scottish immigrant ancestors, imagining the events in Scotland that led to their emigration to Canada. Once settled in the bush of western Ontario, the stories evolve through the mid nineteenth century to the late 20th century. The last two thirds of the book are memoir-like, exploring the author's own life and experiences.

This is not truly memoir because there is much that the author invents and imagines. I particularly enjoyed it because I have also reached the age where I speculate on my own ancestors and how they might have been. And I am familiar with the landscape of the Lake Huron shores of Ontario.

The writing is quintessential Munro. The work is driven by characters rather than plot. The sequential stories are strung together by characters that appear at different times in their lives, revealing how those people develop over time. I've often thought that Alice Munro was ahead of her time in that her style of writing appeals to the modern desire for short episodic narratives that has evolved in the era of digital media.
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LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
Alice Munro is a great writer. I have thoroughly enjoyed her short story collections. This book is a series of short stories that is really a family saga. The prose was very plain and the types of stories were not up to the usual Munro level of engagement type work. Not her best for me. In showing the day to day lives of people in the 19th and 20th century rural world that she grew up in she actually created the struggle they had. It was just not al book for me. If you have not read Alice Munro you should but try "Runaway" is a better starting place then this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member TerriS
This was a memoir based on the author's family history that she had uncovered over time. It is told in short stories. It was interesting, not my very favorite but I would call it "good."
Of course, this is just my opinion, since this author was the recipient of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature! So I guess she's pretty "good." ;)… (more)
LibraryThing member thorold
This book is presented as a short story collection, but - untypical for Munro - all the material for it is either from her research into the history of her family (in Part One) or autobiographical (in Part Two). The stories form a chronological sequence, but individually they are largely self-contained. We start out in the Scottish Borders around the end of the 18th century (it turns out that Munro's emigrant forebears were cousins of James Hogg "the Ettrick Shepherd", the writer who got Scott interested in ballads), and come forward to Ontario at the beginning of the 21st.

She cautions us against taking it as straight non-fiction, though: everything has been shaped and re-imagined from the perspective of a writer of fiction. Possibly a good way of ensuring that you annoy at least some of your friends and relatives, but it seems to suit her technique very well. I think there might be a buried joke in the way most of the stories subvert the usual formula of an Alice Munro story, by building up a narrative that is clearly heading for a catastrophic pivotal event (adultery, rape, murder, natural disaster, you know the sort of thing) but then having it not happen after all... Fun!
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LibraryThing member gypsysmom
Alice Munro is well known for her short fiction. After all, she won the Nobel Prize for fiction in 2013 and the prize committee commented that she was a "master of the contemporary short story".

This book is her most autobiographical. The stories are all taken from her family's and her own life. Munro is the descendent of Scots who came to Canada and took up homesteads in Huron County in Ontario. One of the stories is about her last months at home before she got married and moved out to BC. However, none of the stories detail her married life. Instead she leaps ahead to the time when she had moved back to Ontario after her divorce. I'm not aware that she has ever written about her first marriage. Maybe that is in deference to the children from that marriage but I, personally, would love to know more about that time. After all, she and her husband started Munro's Books which is a great book store in Victoria.

I listened to this book but I was rather put off by the narrator, Kimberly Farr, in the first few stories. She tried to do the dialogue with a Scottish accent but to my ear it was not right. I would recommend reading this book and hearing the dialogue in the first few stories in your mind. I am sure you will sound better than Farr did.
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LibraryThing member stef7sa
Less intense than Munro's "real" stories, this is still worth reading. The first part is mainly family history based on an abundance of facts and interestingly showing the aimilarities and differences that develop between only a few generations of a family. The second part are personal recollections of the last generations and the authors own life.… (more)



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