Book Review: Runaway by Alice Munro

runaway Well-crafted short stories about love, guilt and betrayal

About the Book

Synopsis (courtesy of Goodreads): Alice Munro’s bestselling and rapturously acclaimed Runaway is a book of extraordinary stories about love and its infinite betrayals and surprises, from the title story about a young woman who, though she thinks she wants to, is incapable of leaving her husband, to three stories about a woman named Juliet and the emotions that complicate the lustre of her intimate relationships. In Munro’s hands, the people she writes about – women of all ages and circumstances and their friends, lovers, parents, and children – become as vivid as our own neighbours. It is her miraculous gift to make these stories as real and unforgettable as our own.

Book Facts

  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 335
  • Publication date: 2005
  • Genre: Literary, Short Stories

My Review (3.5 out of 5)

Runaway is a collection of short stories published in 2005. My review focuses on three linked stories from the collection – ‘Chance’, ‘Soon’ and ‘Silence’ – which were the inspiration for the 2016 film Julieta, which I will be reviewing separately as part of my From Page to Screen Reading challenge. Spoiler alert: Since the stories follow on from one another, it is impossible to summarise them without giving away key events from earlier stories.

Chance’ introduces us to Juliet, a rather introverted young woman, who is travelling to visit a married man, Eric Porteous, she met in a chance encounter on a train six months earlier. Eric is a fisherman who is caring for his wife paralysed as a result of a car accident. Juliet recalls the circumstances of their meeting following a tragic event which occurred on the train. At the time, her response to Eric’s advances had been confused but now, on the basis of a letter he sent her, she believes there is a chance of something more. Arriving at his house, she finds his wife has died and Eric is staying with a female friend, Christa. Against the wishes of his housekeeper, Ailo, Juliet decides to stay until he returns.

Soon’ is set several years later when Juliet has given birth to a daughter, Penelope. On this occasion she is travelling to her parents’ home. Sara, her mother, is in poor health due to heart trouble. Juliet’s father, Sam, an ex-teacher, is now running a market garden business. Juliet is perturbed to find a third person in the household – Irene – employed to help around the house and garden.   Juliet feels discomfited by Irene, who she feels treats her as if she is an ‘intruder’.   Juliet becomes unsettled by her father’s admiration for Irene and Irene’s influence within the household, wondering about the true nature of their relationship. Sara’s physical frailty makes her dependent on Sam and Irene, unwilling or unable to influence whatever is going on: ‘Irene is – he’s careful of her. She’s very valuable to us, Irene.’   Sara’s mental frailty is clear as well: “When it gets really bad for me – when it gets so bad I – you know what I think then? I think, all right. I think – Soon. Soon I’ll see Juliet.’ Heartbreakingly, Juliet turns away without reply and it is only later that she regrets her failure to respond.

Silence’ moves us on almost twenty years. Juliet is again travelling, this time to see her daughter, Penelope, who has been staying on an island retreat for six months. However, when she gets there, Juliet is told her daughter has left and the retreat leader is either unable or unwilling to reveal her whereabouts.   Juliet reflects on what might have caused this breach. She recalls the circumstances of Penelope’s father’s death, which took place while Penelope was at a summer camp. Juliet never revealed the full facts to her daughter – their argument and its causes and his subsequent death in a storm.   Aside from a few birthday cards sent (she presumes by Penelope) on her daughter’s birthday, Juliet hears nothing further from her. However, one day many years later, Juliet runs into one of Penelope’s childhood friends and learns from her that Penelope is living in northern Canada with her five children.

‘She keeps on hoping for a word from Penelope, but not in a strenuous way. She hopes as people who know better hope for underserved blessings, spontaneous remissions, things of that sort.’

Alice Munro is undoubtedly a talented writer and I admired the way these stories were crafted without actually loving them. They have a rather bleak, depressing quality. I also found Juliet a difficult character to empathise or engage with. So much of what happened seemed to stem from her failure to understand and respond to the needs of those around her, such as her daughter, and her guilt at this inaction never provoked her to remedy her omissions.

To buy a copy of Runaway from Amazon, click here

In three words: Insightful, poignant, introspective

Try something similar…In A German Pension: 13 Stories by Katherine Mansfield

munroAbout the Author

Alice Munro is a Canadian short-story writer who is widely considered one of the world’s premier fiction writers. Munro is a three-time winner of Canada’s Governor General’s Award for fiction. Her stories focus on human relationships looked at through the lens of daily life. She has thus been referred to as “the Canadian Chekhov”. She is the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature.


From Page to Screen: Queen of Katwe

About the Book: The Queen of Katwe by Tim Crothers

Subtitled “A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster”,   the book tells the true story of Phiona Mutesi, a girl from the Katwe slum area of Kampala, Uganda. Nine-year old Phiona’s aptitude for chess is spotted by an inspirational mentor, Robert Katende, a war refugee turned missionary. Soon chess offers her the tantalising possibility of finding a route out of poverty and hardship.  She joins Katende’s group of “Pioneers” and it soon becomes obvious that she has a special talent. By the age of eleven Phiona is her country’s junior champion and at fifteen, the national champion. Phiona’s dream is to one day become a Grandmaster, the most elite title in chess. But to reach that goal, she must grapple with everyday life in one of the world’s most unstable countries, a place where girls are taught to be mothers, not dreamers, and the threats of AIDS, kidnapping, and starvation loom over the people.

Read my review of the book here.

About the Film: Queen of Katwe (2016)

Queen of Katwe is directed by Mira Nair from a screenplay by William Wheeler, based on the book by Tim Crothers.   It stars David Oyelowo as Robert Katende, newcomer Madina Nalwanga as Phiona and Lupita Nyong’o as Phiona’s mother, Nakku Harriet.

More information about the film can be found here.

Book v Film

The film was shot largely on location in the Katwe slum area of Kampala, Uganda giving it remarkable authenticity. It gives a realistic picture of the poverty, crime and sheer daily struggle that is the everyday experience of the inhabitants of Katwe. Their exposure to the vagaries of the elements is also dramatically illustrated. As with many film adaptations, it chooses to focus on a few key characters and amends and elides certain events for dramatic appeal. For instance, in reality (as Tim Crothers’ book makes clear), the Sports Outreach organisation that supported the “Pioneers” group was the work of many other people, not just Robert Katende, although it’s true he did the most one-on-one work with the children.  In that regard, David Oyelowo gives a compelling performance as Robert Katende and the performances of the actors playing the children who make up the “Pioneers” are remarkable, especially newcomer, Madina Nalwanga, as Phiona.

The Verdict

The film, Queen of Katwe, is a feel-good movie with some charming, humorous moments to offset the more serious themes.  It probably leaves the viewer with a more positive message about Phiona’s future prospects in the world of chess than is the situation in real life. The film is visually stunning with excellent performances from both leading and supporting cast.  Since I found the book stylistically a little stodgy, although packed full of factual detail, on this occasion I think the film wins out over the book.

My Week in Books


New arrivals

 adonis The Flowers of Adonis by Rosemary Sutcliff (Kindle ebook, 99p)

The 5th Century BC. The Greek city-states are engaged in perpetual war. But one man towers above the chaos. His name is Alkibiades. He is at once a pirate, statesman and seducer whose adventures rival those of Odysseus himself. Citizen of Athens, friend of Socrates, sailor, warrior and inveterate lover, Alkibiades flees persecution in his native city to join the Spartan cause. However, his brilliant naval and diplomatic victories on their behalf do not save him from the consequences of impregnating the Spartan queen, and once more he takes up the outcast’s mantle…

 captainpaulCaptain Paul by Edward Ellsberg (Kindle ebook, free)

“I watched John Paul Jones flash like a flaming meteor across the dark days of our struggle for independence.” 1773 – When Tom Folger’s father is lost during a whaling expedition, the young Nantucketer is forced to put aside thoughts of his printer’s apprenticeship to support his mother. In keeping with the family’s sea-faring tradition, he joins a whaler’s crew and sets out on his first cruise, but an encounter with a bull sperm whale changes everything. Not only does Tom find himself promoted third mate, a position not without its difficulties, but it leads to a chance encounter with the enigmatic Captain Paul. An ex-slaver and merchantman, the fugitive Scottish buccaneer’s path becomes entwined with that of Tom. With conflict brewing the two join the fledgling Continental Navy. Through trials and tribulations, politicking and treachery, Tom sails with Captain Paul from Nassau to France and on into the home waters of the feared Royal Navy. As the Revolutionary War rages on, a legend will be born.

owed So Much Owed by Jean Grainger (Kindle ebook, free)

In a turbulent and uncertain world, the birth of two children revitalise a small Irish town and set the stage for a closer look into lives torn asunder by war.  When Dr. Richard Buckley returns home to his wife and beloved hometown of Dunderrig, his mind is wearied by the ravages of The Great War. Disillusioned by the horror and pointlessness of battle, his civilian transition strains more than just his state of mind, as his marriage crumbles beneath the weight of duty. Out of the rubble of this doomed relationship, twins James and Juliet arrive—born into an uncertain and hostile new world. Against the backdrop of this idyllic town, this story takes you to the furthest reaches of Nazi occupied Europe. James and Juliet come of age in a world on the brink of chaos, where the remnants of rebellion at home have snowballed into the horrors of yet another world war.

noordkilling No Ordinary Killing by Jeff Dawson (eARC courtesy of Endeavour Press)

December 1899, South Africa.  Global superpower Great Britain is mired in an unexpectedly brutal conflict with the upstart Boers.  Captain Ingo Finch of the Royal Army Medical Corps pieces together casualties from the battle for Kimberley. On leave in Cape Town, the slaughter proves inescapable for Finch.  Awoken at his lodgings by local police, he is informed that a British officer has been murdered in a city backstreet. An RAMC signature is required to expedite a post mortem.  Shocked by the identity of the victim, the bizarre nature of the crime and what appears a too-convenient resolution, Finch seeks answers before returning to the Front.  Though the sleuth soon turns fugitive, thrust into a perilous scramble through a maze of intrigue and espionage — with feisty Australian nurse, Annie Jones, as his accidental accomplice. Way to the north, Mbutu Kefaleze, a diamond mine runner, leads a band of tribal refugees on a trek across the vast Karoo.  Their discovery of a white woman and her daughter wandering in the desert fuels their fear — that a lethal supernatural force has been unleashed upon the wilderness. All have stumbled upon a deadly secret, the revelation of which would shake the Empire to its core.

ares-road-2 Ares Road by James L. Weaver (eARC courtesy of Lakewater Press)

With his days as a mob enforcer behind him, Jake Caldwell’s trying to go straight. But it seems his past won’t let him go. His first job working as a private investigator turns up a teenage girl screaming down a dead man’s cell phone, and Logan, his mentor and the only man with answers, beaten into a coma. Now Jake’s taking it personally. The only clues Jake has to unravel the mystery are a Russian with a stolen, silver briefcase and three names: Snell, Parley and Ares. Teaming up with his best friend Bear, the Sheriff of his home town, and an attractive FBI agent, Jake quickly discovers they’re not the only ones looking for the briefcase and its deadly contents. It’s no longer about seeking revenge.

namefamily In the Name of the Family by Sarah Dunant (NetGalley ARC)

`It is better to be feared than loved’ – Niccolo Machiavelli. In the bear pit of renaissance politics, a young Florentine diplomat finds himself first hand observer on the history’s most notorious family – the Borgias. In the Name of the Family – as Blood and Beauty did before – holds up a mirror to a turbulent moment of history, sweeping aside the myths to bring alive the real Borgia family; complicated, brutal, passionate and glorious. Here is a thrilling exploration of the House of Borgia’s doomed years, in the company of a young diplomat named Niccolo Machiavelli. It is 1502 and Rodrigo Borgia, a self-confessed womaniser and master of political corruption is now on the Papal throne as Alexander VI. His daughter Lucrezia, aged twenty-two, already thrice married and a pawn in her father’s plans, is discovering her own power. And then there is Cesare Borgia: brilliant, ruthless and increasingly unstable; it is his relationship with the diplomat Machiavelli which offers a master class on the dark arts of power and politics. What Machiavelli learns will go on to inform his great work of modern politics, The Prince.  But while the pope rails against old age and his son’s increasing maverick behavior it is Lucrezia who will become the Borgia survivor: taking on her enemies and creating her own place in history.

7thfunction The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet (NetGalley ARC)

Roland Barthes is knocked down in a Paris street by a laundry van. It’s February 1980 and he has just come from lunch with Francois Mitterrand, a slippery politician locked in a battle for the Presidency. Barthes dies soon afterwards. History tells us it was an accident.  But what if it were an assassination? What if Barthes was carrying a document of unbelievable, global importance? A document explaining the seventh function of language – an idea so powerful it gives whoever masters it the ability to convince anyone, in any situation, to do anything.  Police Captain Jacques Bayard and his reluctant accomplice Simon Herzog set off on a chase that takes them from the corridors of power and academia to backstreet saunas and midnight rendezvous. What they discover is a worldwide conspiracy involving the President, murderous Bulgarians and a secret international debating society.  In the world of intellectuals and politicians, everyone is a suspect. Who can you trust when the idea of truth itself is at stake?

Last week on What Cathy Read Next…

  • Reviews
  • Challenge updates
    • Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge – 29 out of 78 books read (4 more than last week)
    • Classics Club – 2 out of 50 books reviewed (same as last week)
    • NetGalley and Edelweiss Reading Challenge 2017 – 12 ARCs reviewed out of 25 (same as last week)
    • From Page to Screen – 3 book/film comparisons completed (same as last week)

Coming up this week on What Cathy Read Next…

  • Currently reading
    • In the Name of the Family by Sarah Dunant
    • His Whole Life by Elizabeth Hay
  • Planned posts
    • Book Review: Poor Boy Road by James L. Weaver
    • Book Review: Runaway by Alice Munro
    • Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
    • From Page to Screen: The Queen of Katwe
  • NetGalley reviews
    • Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves by Rachel Malik
    • Secrets of Southern Girls by Haley Harrigan
    • If the Creek Don’t Rise by Leah Weiss
    • Final Girls by Riley Sager
    • Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir

How was your week in books?  What book-related stuff have you got planned for this week?

Review: Her Perfect Life by Sam Hepburn


How far would you go to create the perfect life?  

About the Book

Publisher’s description: Grace Dwyer has it all – handsome husband, adorable child, beautiful home and glittering career. The perfect life. Her new friend Juliette doesn’t exactly fit in. She’s a down-on-her-luck single parent with no money and not much hope. So just what is it that draws Grace and Juliette together? And when the cracks start to appear in Grace’s perfect life, can both of them survive?


My Review (spoiler free)

Seemingly Gracie has the perfect life. She’s a celebrity cook and successful businesswoman. She lives in a designer house with her handsome husband and beautiful little girl. But Gracie’s “perfect” life is starting to unravel.   Juliette definitely has anything but the perfect life. She has money problems, is a little bit too fond of a drink and is struggling to bring up her daughter alone following a messy relationship.

The unfolding events are recounted from the points of view of Gracie and Juliette and an unnamed third narrator (the latter through diary entries). I thought the author did a good job of creating distinctive voices for Gracie and Juliette and revealing different aspects of their characters as the book progressed.  Gradually, the connections between Gracie, Juliette and the unnamed diarist are revealed resulting in a satisfyingly clever twist at the end.  I did guess part of the twist but not all.  An entertaining read.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of NetGalley and publishers, Harper Collins, in return for an honest review.

Book facts: 392 pages, publication date 23rd February 2017

My rating: 4 out of 5

In three words: Entertaining, mystery, thriller

Try something similar…I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

About the Author

Sam read modern languages at Cambridge University and, after a brief spell in advertising she joined the BBC as a General Trainee. She worked as a documentary maker for twenty years and was one of the commissioners for the launch of BBC Four. Quicksilver, her first novel for children, was published in 2010. Since then she has published a sequel to Quicksilver and two crime thrillers for teenagers. She has been shortlisted for several prestigious prizes and nominated for the Cilip Carnegie Medal for her YA thrillers. Her Perfect Life is Sam’s debut psychological thriller for adults.  Author Website

Follow Sam on Twitter

Book Review: The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman by Mindy Mejia


Everyone thought they knew Hattie Hoffman. When she was murdered, they found out just how wrong they were.

About the Book

Publisher’s description: Seventeen-year-old Hattie Hoffman is a talented actress, loved by everyone in her Minnesotan hometown. So when she’s found stabbed to death on the opening night of her school play, the tragedy rips through the fabric of the community. Local sheriff Del Goodman, a good friend of Hattie’s dad, vows to find her killer, but the investigation yields more secrets than answers; it turns out Hattie played as many parts offstage as on. Told from three perspectives: Del’s, Hattie’s high school English teacher and Hattie herself, The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman tells the story of the real Hattie, and what happened that final year of school when she dreamed of leaving her small town behind . . .

My Review (spoiler free)

The first and most important lesson in acting is to read your audience. Know what they want you to be and give it to them.”

Hattie has ambitions to be an actress and leave behind her small-town upbringing for life in the big city. She’s so used to acting a part that she has begun to believe she can control everyone around her; that she can see how everything will unfold, as if in a play. The trouble is the other people involved don’t know they’re just characters in her play; they don’t know it’s not for real. It’s what has caused her to end up dead.

Told from the perspective of three different characters, including Hattie herself, the reader gradually learns more about the events leading up to Hattie’s death and, eventually, the reason she was murdered. As the novel progresses, the unintended consequences of Hattie’s manipulations become apparent to the reader, in a way they were not to Hattie, providing a number of plausible possible suspects for her murder. The reveal at the end brings the story to a satisfying conclusion. Personally, I didn’t feel that Hattie came across as purely manipulative but rather as a needy person, seeking approbation and acceptance by others and feeling the only way she can achieve this is by being whatever they want or need her to be – perfect daughter, perfect girlfriend, perfect student. In this way, her premature death becomes extra sad.

This is a really well-written, satisfying psychological thriller (originally published as Everything You Want Me To Be).

I received an advance reader copy courtesy of NetGalley and publishers, Quercus Books, in return for an honest review.

Book facts: 352 pages, publication date 9th March 2017

My rating: 5 (out of 5)

In three words: Suspenseful, satisfying, enthralling

Try something similar…Secrets of Southern Girls by Haley Harrigan

To buy a copy of The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman, click here

mindyAbout the Author

Mindy Mejia is a Minnesota author whose debut novel, The Dragon Keeper, was published by Ashland Creek Press in 2012. Besides the occasional book review or blog entry, Mindy focuses on the novel and she writes what she likes to read: contemporary, plot-driven books that deliver both entertainment and substance.  Author Website

Follow Mindy on Twitter