Dance of the Happy Shades by Alice Munro


Cleaning up: my goodness, I wrote this in 2014 and didn’t get around to publishing it. 

Sociologically speaking, Munro’s worth her weight in gold. Her stories preserve aspects of social history – mores, language, ways of living, the looks, the smells, the landscape – in a form that goes well beyond what is possible in documented sources. Nor does she need to introduce the drama necessary in movies. She can make things 3D without glasses. Layers of small vignettes that add up to a whole world – her world.

And because it is her world I suppose, her books, I see as I randomly attack them, seem to have a quality that reflects time and age. This set, her first, is preoccupied with the young and adolescent. It reads like a first. Slightly green and rough, they feel like maybe they were harder fought for than later stories, where she has found her exact voice and way. Even so, this first lot is still the same writer through and through. There is a sameness not just of topic and setting, but style which drove me to an impatient boredom in the end. Somehow Munro makes 3D very flat. I didn’t care to finish the last two stories, much as it included the title piece. She’d been writing already for many years by the time this book came out, it covers over a decade in terms of her output, so although it’s a first book, it isn’t a first book the way all those hyped up creations by creative university literary courses are; the writing may be a bit green, but the writer isn’t.

To be fair, as she writes largely of rural communities where her characters speak a very colloquial and uneducated brand of English, maybe green and rough reflects that, rather than her technique. That puts the reader of my edition, at least, in the bind in other ways. Mine is a shockingly proofread book. I have written to Vintage to try to find out more about this. We are talking about stories that were (in the main) published in magazine format, then into a book in 1968. My 2000 edition is a new one by Vintage/Random House.

Things don’t start well for Random House as one opens the book and there in the author’s biography is this in the opening sentence:

‘…including Open Secrets which one the WH Smith Literary Award.’

Some sort of team at Random House can’t tell the difference between its and it’s. It’s lacks its apostrophe at least nine times on pages 29, 129, 130, 138, 139, 141, and 156. Twice on two of those pages. There is nothing to suggest in the text as a whole that this is artifice on the part of the writer. This meant the person who set the copy, the copy-editor, the proofreader all failed this test for eight-year-olds.

p. 52 fourth line from the bottom it would appear that the word ‘his’ has been included instead of the word ‘this’. ‘Adelaide had said that his woman would probably let us use her front room…’ There is no ‘his’ in the story to make sense of this, so the simple fix is to make it ‘this woman’

p.76 One assumes that ‘promposity’ is supposed to be ‘pomposity’.

p.90 One assumes fom the description of the item of clothing in question that ‘kimona’ is supposed to be ‘kimono’ which is elsewhere correctly spelt.

p.178 ‘on’ should be ‘an’, presumably: She had ‘…a long wary face and on oblique resentful expression’.

I have so far sent two queries to Vintage Press to find out how the proofreading of this book was done. Unfortunately I don’t have other editions to hand to compare.

Update years later: Vintage Press replied asking me to give them a list of the mistakes. I asked for a job. I was not offered a job.

4 thoughts on “Dance of the Happy Shades by Alice Munro

  1. I think I would have sent them an invoice.

    The worst typo I’ve ever seen in terms of direct reputation was in a video accompanying an online learning tool that the company I was working for had commissioned. It had a series of graphics over the top of a piece to camera by the CEO. At one point, the graphic included the word “sailor” which was relevant; but it was spelt “sailer”.

    I’ve worked for people who would have sacked me if I’d let something like that, directly connected with the CEO, through quality assurance.

    No-one bothered checking the item before it was distributed across the company. I had an argument with the Chief Technology Officer over it; he took the view that my job was only to test the software we’d built in-house, not stuff like applications we’d bought in. Things went downhill from there (for both of us). At least he now understands my point of view.

    • Nothing to do with me, but I like the story of the person who proofread the bridge magazine and fixed up a diagram which was missing a card. Unfortunately for him, the whole story hinged on the idea that the deck was incomplete. When you are proofreading the words, there is a tendency to do it at a level where you aren’t taking it in. Certainly that was the case in this case, anyway.

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