Book 29, From the Fifteenth District (1979) – Mavis Gallant
From the back cover:
“Set in Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War, the nine stories in this glittering collection reflect on the foibles and dilemmas of human relationships. An English family goes to the south of France for the sake of the father’s health, and to get away from an England of rationing and poverty. A displaced person turned French soldier in Algeria now makes a living as an actor in Paris. A group of selfish English expatriates on the Italian Riviera are incredulous that Mussolini and the Germans may affect their lives. A great writer’s quiet widow blossoms in widowhood, to the surprise and alarm of her children, who send a ten-year-old grandson to Switzerland to keep her company one Christmas. Full of wry humour and penetrating insights, this is Mavis Gallant at her most unforgettable.”
I’m afraid I’m finding these stories rather dull. Though they’re wonderfully written, I’m slogging through them. So far, I’ve read:
“The Four Seasons” – Story about a young servant girl and her English ex-pat employers and how the English community is faced with the war that they hadn’t foreseen.
“The Moslem Wife” – I did like parts of this story of the relationship of two married cousins (and liked it better after hearing Mavis Gallant talking about it).
“The Remission” – A very long story about an expatriate community on the French/Italian Rivera. It was okay but a little boring.
“The Latehomecomer” – I didn’t have any idea that German prisoners of war were basically made into ‘slave’ labourers in France for years.
“Baum, Gabriel, 1935-( )” – I didn’t mind this one, but I just found it went on for a very long time. I guess I’m just not that fascinated by Paris of the 50s and 60s
“From the Fifteenth District” – This I found to be the most intriguing of the stories so far. A tale of ghosts haunted by the living. The concept is a nice twist on what we would expect.
I’ve now read the final stories:
“Potter” – Another very long story which I found annoying because I really didn’t like either of the main characters.
“His Mother” – This is one of the ones I liked the best of the collection. On the shorter side and giving a real snapshot as a mother of an émigre in an Eastern European city. Reminded me a bit of De Niro’s Game for some reason.
“Irina” – Another of the shorter stories. I liked the ending & I especially liked the description of women as parcels.
Overall, I really enjoyed some of Gallant’s language, especially her descriptive imagery, but since I found the characters and their situations kind of dull, I found it difficult to read. Perhaps these stories would have been better listened to than read—I find that with texts that have so little plot: I find it hard to concentrate on just the language and expression. I also found her characters and the stories blended into one another and were a bit ‘samey’.