Bloomsbury £10.99 (340pp). £9.89 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
The Cost Of Living, By Mavis Gallant
Friday 19 November 2010
Largely selected from the pages of The New Yorker, this collection of the early work of Canadian short story writer, Mavis Gallant, kicks off with her first published story, "Madeline's Birthday" (1951), and ends with the novella-length "The Burgundy Weekend" (1971). As with the best writers of short fiction, Gallant's primary subject is loneliness and the exquisite sadness of being exiled from home.
Drawing from the author's own experience of expatriate life – Gallant has lived in Paris for over 60 years – the stories travel between Montreal and New York, Germany and the Left Bank. A whiff of post-war austerity hangs over many of the early entries, stories that see Gallant's New World visitors adapting to the shock of arrival in a Europe where rotting vegetables are still rescued from bins and ethnic identities obscured.
The title story of the book, in which Australians come to live in Paris, is particularly redolent of the period. Taking up residence in a run-down hotel on the south side of the Luxembourg Gardens, sisters Lulu and Puss are stunned by the cold and dark of a city where the only natural light on the street "was the blue neon sign of a snack bar". Careful with their money, Lulu, the more parsimonious of the two, starts to keep an account of their expenditure. It's only when she returns home that Puss discovers from the ledger that she's been buying expensive gifts for the grubby young girl who lives in the room next door – although she hasn't been able to bring herself to record their true price.
The cost of human relationships runs through much of Gallant's fiction in stories that capture the missed opportunities between husbands and wives, parents and children. In the melancholy story "Autumn Day", 19-year-old Cissy travels to Salzburg to join her new husband serving in the American military. Still dressed in girlish Peter Pan collars, and fuzzy about the mechanics of sex, she finds herself sharing a twin bedroom with a man ten years her senior to whom she has nothing to say. It's only towards the end of the story that she glimpses that his unhappiness might be every bit as great as hers.
Over the 20-year period covered by the collection, Gallant experiments with first- and third- person narratives, bringing new depths to her masterly portraits of these congenitally restless men and women. As Jhumpa Lahiri so nicely puts it in her introduction: "Never have characters adrift been so effectively moored."
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Students heading off to 'charity challenge' grounded at Gatwick after travel firm goes bust
- 2 Notting Hill Carnival: Woman shares selfie after being ‘punched in face for telling man to stop groping her’
- 3 Daily Show's Jon Stewart destroys Fox News for its Ferguson coverage
- 4 When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
- 5 Like Jennifer Aniston, I am no less of a woman because I am childless
Great British Bake Off 2014: Diana Beard quits after falling ill
Friends reunion: Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow and Courteney Cox perform mini sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
Strictly Come Dancing v X Factor: Simon Cowell blasts BBC over scheduling war
Doctor Who series 8: Ofcom will not investigate lesbian kiss
Burning Man Festival 2014: Thousands gather in Nevada's Black Rock Desert a day late after rain postponed official start
Exclusive: We share blame for creating 'jihad generation', says Muslim strategist
Robin Williams Emmys tribute led by Billy Crystal criticised for including 'racist' joke about Muslim woman
The Rotherham child abuse scandal is a tale of apologists, misogyny and double standards
Scottish independence TV debate: Pumped-up Alex Salmond bounces back in bruising second round against Alistair Darling
Do you realise just how foolish the UK looks?
Ukip Douglas Carswell defection: Tory MP jumps ship to join Nigel Farage
- < Previous
- Next >