Fiction

My favourite Montreal story

Montreal Stories
Mavis Gallant

When I first moved to Montreal eight years ago I chose an apartment in Mile End. It was actually a bit of a dump, but that didn’t matter because it was around the corner from where Mordecai Richler grew up. When my first novel was published three years ago I had my author photo taken in front of Wilensky’s, in a very deliberate salute to Duddy Kravitz. So you would assume I’d choose a Richler book. But even the Dickens of St. Urbain must bow before the majesty of Mavis Gallant, master of the short story and, in my humble opinion, the greatest writer ever born in Canada. You can’t go wrong with any Gallant collection-Overhead in a Balloon has some of her best European stories, Paris Notebooks has an unforgettable street-level account of May ’68, the colossal Collected Stories is a one-stop argument for ranking her with Chekhov-but I’ll give Montreal Stories the nod. Not only is it a little more user-friendly than Collected but it’s the one place where all the Linnet Muir stories are gathered. This loosely autobiographical suite about the literal and symbolic emancipation of a girl growing up in the stifling provincial atmosphere before, during and after World War II. It’s a world Gallant recalls in such detail, and evokes with such emotional exactitude through the eyes of one of the many underdogs to whom she has given voice, that the stories inadvertently cross the line between literature and social history. Read Montreal Stories and you’ll get as complete a look into a lost world a you’ll get from War and Peace; you’ll also be left in no doubt as to why the Quiet Revolution had to happen. mRb

Ian McGillis is books columnist for the Montreal Gazette and author of the novel A Tourist’s Guide to Glengarry. His memoir Higher Ground will be published by Biblioasis in 2017.

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