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‘Little explosions of joy’: The literary world reacts to Munro’s Nobel win

Canadian author Alice Munro has won the 2013 Nobel Prize for literature.

PAUL HAWTHORNE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

London Review of Books senior editor Christian Lorentzen is £400 (C $660) richer thanks to Alice Munro's Nobel Prize win for literature, his wallet fattened by a four-to-one bet placed the day before.

Thursday's announcement in Sweden brought hoots and hollers and thumbs-up, and it instilled surprise in the 82-year-old author who was branded "master of the contemporary short story" when the Nobel organization announced its choice. In the words of The New Yorker, whose pages frequently included Ms. Munro's stories, "little explosions of joy" rippled across the world.

"I also suspect that this level of emotional response (more akin to receiving family news, like the birth of a child) doesn't happen every year when the winner of the Nobel is declared," writer Sasha Weiss surmised.

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Lorin Stein, editor of the New York-based The Paris Review, called the news "thrilling" and deemed Ms. Munro the best possible selection for the honour this year. "She's a valued contributor ... and a hero to all of us," he said. "It rewards a career that couldn't be more prominent in North America. It rewards a great artist."

Mr. Lorentzen, who gave a negative review to Ms. Munro's recent Dear Life, put his money on the Canadian not out of love, but because she was, according to his colleagues and others who bet through British gaming company Ladbrokes, a near shoe-in. "The literary consensus is that she's a great writer," he said. "The sort of down-at-the-heels, ramshackle Ontario that Alice Munro has created has a certain appeal to people who want a glimpse of an authentic, hardscrabble rural life."

Erica Wagner, an author born in the United States and now based in London, and former literary editor of The Times newspaper, said she too, was not shocked Ms. Munro was awarded the literature prize, although she added: "One would never like to place any bets on what the Nobel committee is going to do."

Ms. Wagner, a lover of the Ontario-born writer known for telling the stories of ordinary people, said it is not for global onlookers to judge Ms. Munro's impact on the Canadian literary landscape – although she unreservedly credits the author with relating this country to those elsewhere.

"I think it's more for Canadians to say what she did for Canada or Ontario, but from the international perspective, she made her particular corner of Canada stand for something universal," said Ms. Wagner, adding the Munro nod also proves the worthiness of the short-story genre.

Writers know that for every scathing critique there's a laudatory one, so for Mr. Lorentzen's negativity – he said he does not think Ms. Munro is a "fraud" or that the emperor has no clothes, only that the "emperor's clothes are very boring" – there is The New York Review of Book's gushing praise. In an interview, editor Robert Silvers said he was delighted at Ms. Munro's win, calling her and Margaret Atwood two distinctively Canadian writers of world prominence.

"We feel introduced to small towns in Canada in a way ... that becomes part of your imagination," he said. "What she has shown is that in Huron County, and sometimes in Vancouver, the deepest and most palpable experiences lurk to be described."

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Mr. Silvers said he does not regard the prize in nationalist terms – talent is talent is talent, Canadian or otherwise. But for Mr. Stein, it is a moment to be relished.

"Canada is a country disproportionately full of passionate readers and wonderful writers," he said. "You well deserve it, and I send the heartiest congratulations from the Lower 48."

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