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Going Ashore

by Mavis Gallant
introduction by Alberto Manguel

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short stories (single author)
list price: $32.99
also available: Paperback
category: Fiction
published: 2009
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One of the world’s great short-story writers emerges with a selection of stories from her past, a trove of hidden treasures.

Mavis Gallant moved from Montreal to Paris in 1950 to write short stories for a living. Since then she has continued to write, producing a remarkable body of work. In 1993, Robertson Davies said: “She has written many short stories. My calculation suggests that she has written in this form at least the equivalent of twenty novels.”

Many of her stories have been anthologized, notably in the 1996 classic Selected Stories, from which hundreds of pages had to be cut for reasons of length.

These “embarrassment of riches” stories are restored in this collection, along with many other neglected treasures from her past. Arranged in the order in which they appeared, they shed light on people living through most of the second half of the 20th century.

More important, they show one of the greatest short-story writers of our time at work, delineating a series of worlds with dramatic flair, dazzlingly precise language, a wicked wit, and a vivid understanding of the human condition.

Even Mavis Gallant’s most devoted admirers will find many stories here that they do not know. For newer admirers, this will prove to be a wonderful source of constant pleasure, leaving only the great mystery: How does she do it?

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From Bernadette

Still, she continued to encourage his interest in theatre. More, she managed to create such a positive atmosphere of playwriting in the house that many of their casual acquaintances thought he was a playwright, and were astonished to learn he was the Knight of Turnbull, Knight & Beardsley. Robbie had begun and abandoned many plays since college. He had not consciously studied since the creative-writing course, but he read, and criticized, and had reached the point where he condemned everything that had to do with the English-language stage.

Nora agreed with everything he believed. She doggedly shared his passion for the theatre — which had long since ceased to be real, except when she insisted — and she talked to him about his work, sharing his problems and trying to help. She knew that his trouble arose from the fact that he had to spend his daytime hours in the offices of the firm. She agreed that his real life was the theatre, with the firm a practical adjunct. She was sensible: she did not ask that he sell his partnership and hurl himself into uncertainty and insecurity — a prospect that would have frightened him very much indeed. She understood that it was the firm that kept them going, that paid for the girls at St. Margaret’s and the trip to Europe every second summer. It was the firm that gave Nora leisure and scope for her tireless battles with the political and ecclesiastical authorities of Quebec. She encouraged Robbie to write in his spare time. Every day, or nearly, during his “good” periods, she mentioned his work. She rarely accepted an invitation without calling Robbie at his office and asking if he wanted to shut himself up and work that particular night. She could talk about his work, without boredom or exhaustion, just as she could discuss his love affairs. The only difference was that when they were mutually explaining Robbie’s infidelity, they drank whiskey. When they talked about his play and his inability to get on with it, Nora would go to the refrigerator and bring out a bottle of milk. She was honest and painstaking; she had at the tip of her tongue the vocabulary needed to turn their relationship and marriage inside out. After listening to Nora for a whole evening, agreeing all the way, Robbie would go to bed subdued with truth and totally empty. He felt that they had drained everything they would ever have to say. After too much talk, he would think, a couple should part; just part, without another word, full of kind thoughts and mutual understanding. He was afraid of words. That was why, that Sunday morning toward the end of October, the simple act of leaving the living room took on the dramatic feeling of escape.

He started up the stairs, free. Bernadette was on her knees, washing the painted baseboard. Her hair, matted with a cheap permanent, had been flattened into curls that looked like snails, each snail held with two crossed bobby pins. She was young, with a touching attractiveness that owed everything to youth.

Bonjour, Bernadette.


Bending, she plunged her hands into the bucket of soapy water. A moment earlier, she had thought of throwing herself down the stairs and making it seem an accident. Robbie’s sudden appearance had frightened her into stillness. She wiped her forehead, waiting until he had closed the door behind him. Then she flung herself at the baseboard, cloth in hand. Did she feel something — a tugging, a pain? “Merci, mon Dieu,” she whispered. But there was nothing to be thankful for, in spite of the walls and the buckets of water and the bending and the stretching.

From La Vie Parisienne
Trudi is our youngest. We’re putting her on a charter flight that lands in Norway. (See attached schedule.) She’s pretty resourceful for a sixteen-year-old, so you don’t really have to meet her, though it would be a good way of getting acquainted. I think you’ll find her refreshingly candid and outspoken. She’s willing to help around the house, once she has seen the purpose of the task. What she really wants is to spend the summer working on the creative side of someplace like Yves Saint Laurent or Christian Dior. She wouldn’t mind starting as a salesperson, just to get the feel of things. You won’t have anything like the trouble with Trudi that you had with Cressida, Ralph, and Bunny. Kids are off drugs now, except — but we’d just as soon let Trudi tell you.

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Contributor notes

Mavis Gallant was born in Montreal in 1922. Her stories, regularly published in The New Yorker and in books such as From the Fifteenth District, Home Truths, and Across the Bridges, have earned her international acclaim and many prizes. She is a Companion of the Order of Canada, and lives in Paris.

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Editorial Review

"The irrefutable master of the short story in English, Mavis Gallant has, among her colleagues, many admirers but no peer. She is the standout. She is the standard-bearer. She is the standard."
— Fran Lebowitz

"There isn't a finer living writer in the English language."
Books in Canada

"She is a very good writer indeed."
New York Times

"Mavis Gallant is a marvellously clear-headed observer and a rare phrase-maker."
Times Literary Supplement

"Boldly styled. . . . [Gallant] manages to reveal so very much of a situation with rending economy. . . . Gallant's great achievement is to reveal the universality of difficult human experience."
National Post
"Happily, [these] stories have now been born again and they wear remarkably well."
Toronto Star

"Mavis Gallant writes some of the most superbly crafted and perceptive stories of our time."
Globe and Mail
"One of the best writers of our language, an artist who is above fad and fashion."
Saturday Night

"Reading any one of Mavis Gallant's stories is like viewing the entire universe through an electron microscope; in her hands fiction seems infinitely flexible and capacious. And all the complexity of insight, the breadth of understanding, the density of thought and intensity of feeling are delivered with thrilling charm, a thrilling lightness of touch."
— Deborah Eisenberg

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About the Authors

Mavis Gallant

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Alberto Manguel

Internationally acclaimed as an anthologist, translator, essayist, novelist, and editor, Alberto Manguel is the bestselling author of several award-winning books, including A Dictionary of Imaginary Places, with Gianni Guadalupi, and A History of Reading. Manguel grew up in Israel, where his father was the Argentinian ambassador. In the mid-1980s, Manguel moved to Toronto where he lived for twenty years. Manguel's novel, News from a Foreign Country Came, won the McKitterick Prize in 1992. In 2000, Manguel moved to the Poitou-Charentes region of France, where he and his partner purchased and renovated a medieval farmhouse.

Célébrité internationale à plus d’un titre — il est anthologiste, traducteur, essayiste, romancier et éditeur — Alberto Manguel est l’auteur du Dictionnaire des lieux imaginaires, en collaboration avec Gianni Guadalupi, et d’une Histoire de la lecture, entre autres succès de librairie. Manguel a grandi en Israël où son père était ambassadeur de l’Argentine. Au milieu des années 1980, Manguel s’installe à Toronto où il vivra pendant vingt ans. Il reçoit le McKitterick Prize en 1992 pour son roman News from a Foreign Country Came. Depuis 2000, Manguel habite la région française de Poitou-Charentes, dans une maison de ferme du Moyen-Âge qu’il a achetée et remise à neuf avec son compagnon.

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