The Four Seasons of Mavis Gallant

First aired on Ideas (15/2/12)

Canadian author Mavis Gallant is widely acclaimed as a master of the short story. More than a hundred of her stories have appeared in The New Yorker over the span of five decades, and she has won numerous literary prizes, including the Governor General's Award. Her work, which often centres on characters such as émigrés and exiles, has been praised for capturing the complexity of life in post-war Europe with dazzling acuity. Despite the accolades, she's not well known here in her native country, perhaps because it's so long since she called Canada home.

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Gallant, now 89, still lives in the same Parisian apartment that she moved into almost 50 years ago. To put together this documentary, Rome-based writer Megan Williams spent almost a week with her in Paris.

Gallant had recently returned home after a year in hospital. Though physically frail (she suffers from osteoporosis), she was mentally sharp, with a gaze that Williams describes as "bold, impish and keenly perceptive."

This revealing documentary includes Gallant's recollections of her youth, which was spent separated from her family -- from the age of four, she was sent away to boarding schools and moved frequently -- and of her sense of freedom when she moved to Paris as a neophyte fiction writer in the 1950s. It also includes interviews with Gallant's close friends, who offer insight into her personal life and her work. Odile Hellier, who runs an English-language bookstore in Paris, commented that at the heart of Gallant's writing is "childhood loss and a defiant cutting of ties, abandoning the very people who abandoned her."

"She's a writer's writer," said American author David Downie, who has been a friend of Gallant's for decades. He went on to add that her fiction is "as close to flawless as writing gets."