The Other Paris

Description

240 pages
$8.95
ISBN 0-7715-9738-X

Year

1986

Contributor

Reviewed by Lydia Burton

Lydia Burton was an editor and writer living in Toronto, and was co-author of Editing Canadian English.

Review

Mavis Gallant’s first short stories, published in the 1950s and now reprinted in this collection, demonstrate the dislocations of perceptions and understandings that suffuse many of her fictional characters. Although the locations of these 12 early stories are all different — mostly various European cities, with the exception of Tangier, small-town Quebec, and Montreal — the slightly ineffective and mistaken sensibilities of the unexceptional people about whom Gallant writes serve as a basis for all of them.

Caught in the estrangements of generational or cultural gaps, the women, girls, and sometimes men who are the stories’ main protagonists exhibit the painful sensitivity that occasionally accompanies the not very perspicacious. Gallant has a substantial ability to register the ironies of misunderstanding, irresoluteness, petty cruelties, and frustrated expectations of ordinary people, whether expressed in the first person or described by an outside observer. Few of the characters are very likeable, though I am partial to 12-year-old Emma in “Going Ashore,” who has rather more sense and cleverness than her elders, but who suffers the many deficiencies of understanding and experience of her age.

“The Other Paris” stands in for all the locales of these low-key stories: it is the other side of high expectations, the unromantic, inexplicable, and often tatty side of real life and place. Gallant’s characters strive for a kind of beauty, justice, and understanding in their settings and relationships, but their uncertainties and lack of confidence frequently make it impossible to find the comfort, kindness, and rapport that they so desperately seek.

The North Americans caught up in the post-World War II European settings either want to believe in the charm of their foreign environments and to understand them (which they do with minimal success), or they are irritated and unhappy because their expectations of people and places are confounded. Expectations continually clash with realities in a world that has not yet come to terms with the implications of the war it has recently survived. These stories are very much in the mode of Gallant’s writing and clearly served to establish her as a writer of talent.

Citation

Gallant, Mavis, “The Other Paris,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 20, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/35120.