Saturday, August 15, 2015

What Are They Reading? The View from Castle Rock

Authors tend to be readers, so it is natural for them to create characters who like to read. It is always interesting to me to read what books the characters are reading in the books I read. Even if I can't say that ten times fast.

Usually, the characters' choice of books reflects the author's tastes or, I sometimes think, what the author was reading at the time. But sometimes the character's reading material is a clue to the character's personality, or is even a part of the story.

This is an occasional blog event. If anyone wants to join in, feel free to leave a comment with a link to your related post. And feel free to use the button. If this catches on, I can pick a day and make it a weekly event.

Munro may convert me to a short story fan, I enjoyed this collection so much. The View from Castle Rock is a later collection of her stories, more autobiographical than most, even drawing on primary source material from some of Munro's immigrant forebearers.

One of my favorite stories is "The Hired Girl" about a teen-age girl from a small rural Canadian town who gets a job working for a family at their summer house on an island in Georgian Bay because "Mrs. Montjoy needed a country girl for the summer who was trained to do housework."

I love the story for nailing the excruciating awkwardness of first teenage jobs, especially for a bookish, unsocial girl too trapped in her own head to read the people around her. Elsa feels intellectually superior to her boss because she recognizes that the island is named for Nausicaa, a princess in Ulysses, not a character from Shakespeare as Mrs. Montjoy tells her. Elsa tries to establish their social equality from the get go by immediately announcing that, back home, they refer to the maids as hired girls, which Mrs. Montjoy simply ignores. There is a steady conflict between Elsa never admitting she is a servant and Mrs. Montjoy so absorbed with her own concerns to think of Elsa as anything but, and a temporary one at that.

Cutting across the tension in the story is Mr. Montjoy, who only shows up on weekends and spends most of them drinking and reading in the library. He is the only adult who treats Elsa more as an equal. When they first meet, he is reading Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dineson. He later gives her the book as a going away present. I hope Elsa accepted it as a sign that she would be one of the grown ups eventually.

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