by Alice Munro
Granta 118: Exit Strategies
Is this, In Sight of the Lake, a whinge at the Canadian healthcare system?
Is it a well-narrated description of an otherwise drab topic; a woman’s quest to find her consultant?
Is it someone with dementia?
Is it a dream?
Is it just a romantic memory?
In about this order, Munro had me wildly guessing for the first five pages of her short story, for the next six I let go and went with it, and on the last, some of my guesses were confirmed. Usually, this gives me the ‘YES! I knew it all along!’ feeling; this time, I suppose I didn’t care that I guessed right – the conclusion was more important than my guessing skills, and it tainted some of the humour that had me chuckling a couple of pages before.
To me, Munro’s style is quite unique, and it can be quite funny. The frank and spontaneous reasoning of her main, elderly character is portrayed precisely by Munro’s equally frank and spontaneous sentences. Regarding a stranger that she meets, she promptly concludes, using a one word sentence; “Gay.”. I thought that it was this style of writing at first that had me re-reading the odd sentence, but it was probably the course of the story.
The lack of defined direction and reason created an overwhelming sense of chimera and vagary, which is quite enjoyable to read. This trance-like atmosphere became increasingly apt with the realisation that the character is suffering from some mental-health problem, which I took to be dementia.
I think I found In Sight of the Lake particularly interesting having recently read Diem Perdidi by Julie Otsuka in the previous issue of Granta (which is astounding) and having watched Louis Theroux’s Extreme Love: Dementia documentary. Apart from what I have learnt recently, it is a topic I know little about, and Munro provides an different angle on it, translating the emotional side of the sufferer to the reader quite well. It would be good to understand dementia from the sufferer’s view, but I struggled to be convinced for the accuracy of this portrayal is (and always will be) inherently difficult to know. Had it not been so contemporary for me I do not think I would have enjoyed it quite as much, that is to say, as a stand-alone piece it was a bit to vague for me. Still, it was interesting, and it introduced me to an author whose style I definately enjoyed, so there’s something in that.
I previously reviewed Bonfire by David Long and it left me scared of reaching middle-age. Now Munro has done the same for the twighlight years!
Something better save me soon, or J.M. Barrie will be getting a dusting off.