The Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munroe

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“There is a change coming in the lives of girls and women … All women have had up till now has been their connection with men.” This is the key-line of Alice Munroe’s only novel – a work that is often deemed not a novel at all. This line simmers, reverberates, buzzes as the reader unravels Munroe’s small town of Jubilee and her protagonist Del.

‘Lives of Girls and Women’ is cycle of episodic stories trailing the childhood and early womanhood of Del, a ferociously intelligent, and emotionally keen youth, who treads a border between the strange, liberating world of the other; that world which is the arena of the female, the freak, the intelligent, and the socially inferior. And our more recognizable world; the patriarchal world, mundane, normal, gentile, quietly suffocating and barren. Munroe’s mastery is in details, portraiting the joyless town Jubilee, and the dense, quotidian of lives of the women who live there.

Each episode depicts a moment in the lives of these women, the lives of all women, the lives of all girls. From sexual awakening and the distortion of that awakening, to the all too familiar suppression of female intelligence typified by the internalizing of shame and embarrassment. Del’s life is like that of any other girl in the 1940s and 50s. Except that her panoptical and at time eidetic viewpoint is dazzlingly detailed. There is a psychological richness and magnitude to her voice that is by turns electrifying and heavy. She carries the weight of her mother’s embarrassingly liberal forthrightness right alongside the weight of her own desire for more, for wonder, for love. And at all times she is pulled by the seduction and danger, of both worlds, of two possible futures.

Munroe’s story is one of choice. Ultimately it is Del’s choices that will decide her future.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

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