…I had set out these books, when they came, so that Political Science could shade into Philosophy and Philosophy into Religion without a harsh break, so that compatible poets could nestle together, the arrangement of the shelves of books – I believed – reflecting a more or less natural ambling of the mind, in which treasures new and forgotten might be continually surfacing.
The plot of Alice Munro’s story “The Albanian Virgin” is juxtaposed in an odd way – well, it would be odd with any other author ( I say that a lot when reading Alice Munro); however, being a master of the short story, Munro makes it almost unnoticeable.
We begin with Lottar, a Canadian tourist who is kidnapped and taken to live in an Albanian mountain village. There she is considered “The Virgin” because she refuses to marry into the tribe. She lives on the fringe of the village where she dresses and works like a man.
Then the story switches to Claire visiting Charlotte in a hospital where Charlotte talks of making a movie. The reader gets a hint that the story of Lottar is actually the movie Charlotte wants to make.
Again, the scene changes to Claire and how she came to know Charlotte. After finishing the story, one sees Claire as the protagonist; however, that isn’t realized early on. Another hint makes the reader wonder if the story of Lottar is actually Charlotte’s story.
All of this complexity seems to serve two purposes: 1) to reveal the semi-isolation that all three of these women feel and the fact that some of this isolation is self-imposed and 2) to show that regardless of how isolated one might feel, there is a connected-ness in life from which one can’t abstain.
I’m glad I finally discovered what others have known for a while: Alice Munro is a true artist.
I found this story in her collection Carried Away: A Selection of Stories which I borrowed from my public library.