Carol Shields is the author of eight novels and two collections of short stories. “The Stone Diaries” won the Pulitzer Prize and was short-listed for the Booker. “Larry’s Party” won the Orange Prize.
But I’ve not read either of them. My first Carol Shields’ novel was “Unless” (2002) – the novel dealt with 44 year old Reta. A novelist by profession, Reta’s life has been easy, ordered and what on might call contented. All this falls through one day when her daughter Nora, drops out of the system to sit on the roadside with a sign “GOODNESS” around her neck. Reta’s search for what drove her daughter to this, her attempt to understand this strong statement, leads to a quest for meaning, meaning of loss, of life and of hope.
On the back-cover of the novel is this comment by the Daily Telegraph:
“Shields is about the best we have, she does not just express what oft was thought; she snags the shadows of those thoughts, the thoughts we did not know we had. The effect – at once elating and visceral – feels like a conjurer pulling a handkerchief from your heart.”
I just wrote this on Geebaby – and am not surprised that this review echoes what I felt about her writing. What appeals to me in her novels.
"The Republic of Love" (1992) is an older publication, but I laid hands on it much after “Unless.” It deals with Fay McLeod, a folklorist, and Tom Avery, a radio-jockey. Passionate about mermaids, she is strongly connected to the past – but this interferes in her acceptance of the present. She runs away from love, till she meets Tom. Tom, is a die-hard optimistic (if I may use that adjective for him), who has been married thrice and hopes to get it right the fourth time!
It sounds like a typical love story, but beneath that strand, lie other strands of human relationships, the ways families work, an attempt to understand how love eludes so many of us despite our frantic hunt for it, how so many of us don't know when we've found it even though it's staring us straight in the face and I think also an attempt to understand life in this confused world we exist in. I loved reading the novel, with its marvelous insights, use of myth, ironic style and sentimentalism.