Saturday, March 14, 2015

Alistair MacLeod

I discovered the collected stories of Alistair MacLeod in a charity shop. The cover has a quote from Michael Ondaatje: "One of the great undiscovered writers of our time." The collection, published by Cape in 1991 is The Lost Salt Gift of Blood. 

Most of the stories are about the past, a way of life that's disappeared, about journeys back to isolated places, all in Cape Breton, about the Gaelic spoken there, the people's links to Scotland.

Joyce Carol Oates says in the preface: "If there is a single underlying motive for MacLeod's art it is perhaps the sanctification of his subject…"
The narrator in the stories, she adds, is a son, brother, husband but overall a witness. He wrote one novel, No Great Mischief.

I felt sad when I discovered that he'd died so recently - last year. I don't know why - perhaps that I've only just come across his work and now there's no chance of any more from him.

He took 13 years on his novel, which was published in 1999 and which I'll be ordering.

But what heartened me was that a writer could be content with what is described as a small output, a novelist who is described as being in no hurry. I read his stories and felt like telling everyone I met.

How little of what an artist, writer, musician produces will survive anyway? If anything at all. MacLeod's approach is a lesson and timely for me as I worry about not writing at the moment, or at least, not producing what many of my peers appear to be producing.

I will re-read them. They leave me with the same sense of comfort as the poetry of Michael Longley, the stories of Alice Munro and Annie Proulx. They are rooted, wise and compassionate, reminders of the relationships that matter between people, the earth, animals and sea.

MacLeod was interviewed for the Michigan Quarterly Review in 2005: Alistair MacLeod interview