Unless by Carol Shields

Unless, Carol Shields

Random House Canada, 321 pages

ISBN 0679311793

At forty-three, Reta Winters has settled into a groove of happy living. She lives in a big Ontario farmhouse with her doctor husband, their three daughters, and a greedy Golden Retriever named Pet. When the girls are at school, she writes, mostly English translations of the French feminist Danielle Westerman, who was one of her professors years ago. More recently, however, she has tried her hand at writing novels and has enjoyed some critical acclaim.

And then one awful Saturday morning, Reta’s family gets a phone call.  The town librarian has spotted Norah, the daughter who is away at university, sitting on a street corner in Toronto, holding a cardboard sign that says “Goodness.” Norah’s hair is matted, she is grubby, and she refuses to speak. More importantly, she refuses to come home. She has left her boyfriend, dropped out of school, and has dedicated herself to some sort of inner quest for goodness that can only be achieved by sitting on the corner of Bloor and Bathurst.  Reta’s happiness is shattered, and she applies her newly broken self to understanding her troubled, searching daughter.

A celebration of language and a brilliant examination of goodness, greatness, and a woman’s place in the world, Unless continues in the tradition established by Simone de Beauvoir’s Les Belles Images.

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6 Responses to Unless by Carol Shields

  1. This sounds really good. I’ve put it on hold at my library. Thanks for making me aware of it. 🙂

  2. Alex says:

    This is the one Shield novel I have yet to read. It came out just after my mother had died and for some reason I felt that it would be too raw to handle. I have a copy somewhere in the house. Perhaps the time has come to go back to it. Thank you for reminding me about it.

    • Naomi says:

      I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your mother. There are some raw bits, to be sure, but it’s tempered by lots of discussion about what it means to be a woman and the worth assigned to women in this culture at this point in history. The philosophical bits give some breathing room to the raw emotion around love and loss. Hope you enjoy it.

  3. Thank you for reminding me of Unless. I had the privilege of knowing Carol Shields a little — she was both fierce and gentle, as she is is her writing. I haven’t read Unless yet, but now that you have put it back on my radar, I will.

  4. Touch2Touch says:

    This was quite a book. Made me angry all over again at Carol Shields’ untimely death.

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