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The Wisdom of Alice Munro

by Vintage Editorial Assistant, Aine Mulkeen

Lying Under the Apple TreeWhen life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Everything happens for a reason. Never trust a man with a moustache. We’ve all had our share of encounters with wisdom-pearl-dispensing sages, but where to turn when platitudes are served up that bit too stale, when proverbs fall short, and when moustaches come back into fashion?

At 83 years old, Canadian writer/oracle Alice Munro knows a thing or two about life – and now she has a Nobel Prize in Literature to prove it. So, gleaned from her new selected stories, Lying Under The Apple Tree, here’s an indispensable pocket-guide to navigating the pitfalls inherent in six areas of everyday existence – good luck, and Godspeed. 

First impressions

They really do count – none more so than a sartorial signal:

‘With those ankle socks, she might have been a farm woman. But she didn’t have the hesitation they generally had, the embarrassment’

Except, perhaps, a grooming decision: 

‘The long white hair on Fiona’s mother, even more than the state of the house, had told her all she needed to know about her attitudes and politics’


French vocab at Key Stage Two is admirable but, unchecked, the child could become a little rotter:

 ‘”Dad is really a sort of bourgeois gentilhomme.”

“Don’t make fun of your father,” said Sally mechanically.

“I’m not. It’s just that most geologists seem so grubby.” ’


Reading isn’t just useful for passing exams and/or the time – it’s invaluable in moulding romantic ideals: 

‘It was in books that I would find, for the next few years, my lovers. They were men, not boys. They were self-possessed and sardonic, with a ferocious streak in them, reserves of gloom. Not Edgar Linton, not Ashley Wilkes. Not one of them companionable or kind’

Reading leads to college, which leads to college professors – whose PhDs should not obscure their sometimes questionable powers of deduction:

‘The letter was from the roommate of a girl in his class he had not thought of for a while. Its style was sanctimonious and hostile, threatening in a whining way – he put the writer down as a latent lesbian’


A sense of humour is to be encouraged, but beware wordplay thresholds – everyone has one:  

‘It was often hard to talk to him because of his jokes… she could see it pulling at the corners of his mouth, as he foraged among your words to catch a pun or the start of a rhyme – anything that could take the conversation away, into absurdity’


Should be approached with extreme caution. Think carefully before committing to an opening gambit you might come to regret: 

‘She could hear him now, chewing on those words ‘chum around’. Apology and insolence. Apology his habit. And insolence the result of some hope or determination breaking the surface of his loneliness, his hungry state’

Once positive contact has been established, it is advisable to keep at bay thoughts of nightwear:

‘I wanted to ask if he wore pyjama tops or just the bottoms, or nothing at all, but the last possibility made me feel too weak’


You’ve ditched the ankle socks, said au revoir to annoying children, and you’ve put a stop to chumming around – now you’re ready just to  be really soppy: 

‘He never wanted to be away from her. She had the spark of life’

To discover more about Alice Munro's writing click here.