The Box Garden
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The Box Garden

3.59 of 5 stars 3.59  ·  rating details  ·  615 ratings  ·  43 reviews
Box Garden, The, by Shields, Carol
Paperback, 224 pages
Published January 1st 1996 by Penguin Books (first published 1977)
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I'd give this another 1/2 star if I could. I liked it, but not as much as "Small Ceremonies," which I guess you could call its 'companion' -- the two books are each told from the viewpoint of a sister. I wasn't at all sure of it in the very beginning, though I did think it was well-written from its start (Shields always has such a lovely, 'easy' style), but it picked up quickly, once the main character started interacting with her sister at the home of their difficult mother. Some surprises in t...more
Beautifully written, and good story overall, but this particular book just didn't connect well with me. I think the biggest issue was that I'm not the intended audience, so a lot of the experiences and observations of the characters wouldn't connect to me in the right way. Which made it difficult to connect to the characters on an emotional level. They were all well written, complex and were written to be realistic characters, but I couldn't connect to them.
The story itself was again, well writt...more
This novel is a companion to "Small Ceremonies". The main character in this novel, Charleen, is the sister of the main character, Judith, in "Small Ceremonies". Charleen seems somewhat locked into her ordinary misfortune of having a sour mother, being divorced, and raising her teenaged son on a meager income. Charleen, being a poet, is a bit of a navel-gazer, but I could identify with her difficulty in moving on with her life and enjoying the life that she has. As always, Carol Shields has a suc...more
Needing a taste of some genuine literature I picked this one off the shelf and immediately related to the main character. I do love the works of Carol Shields, both for her odd characters, their general dysfunction and her incredible use of the English language. And unlike many books written today ( this one was published in 1977) "The Box Garden" has a definitive and a happy ending.
Ann Douglas
I can't believe I managed to find a Carol Shield's book that I didn't totally love. I adored Happenstance, The Republic of Love, Swann, Larry's Party, Unless, and -- of course -- The Stone Diaries. While this novel finally won me over, it wasn't until the last quarter of the book. If I wasn't already a committed Carol Shields fan, I would have stopped reading long before that point. Neither the plot nor the characters grabbed me with this one.
Carol Shields is an excellent writer. She writes in such a real way. I feel like old friends with her. I love her characters and her descriptions. This book is not as good as the Stone Diaries but it is not bad either. This story focuses on a family who have grown apart and find themselves back together for a wedding for their aging mother. The main character in the book, Char is a poet who has suffered loss. She finds refuge in her job at a Botanical journal for the college and in the love of h...more
I enjoyed the book. I think it has a "mature chick lit" theme. I do find the comments in the review, about how now Charleen would be given Prozac and sent on her way, both insulting and untrue. It is insulting from the standpoint that most competent doctors do not believe medication treats social issues and existential angst. I find it untrue in that Charleen does not appear depressed or anxious; she seems to be redefining herself after her life has been turned upside down, and it tak...more
Sep 03, 2011 wigwam rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Fans of Swann and Larry's Party
Recommended to wigwam by: (my Carol Shields obsession)
Shelves: shields
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I always forget how much I love Carol Shields. She is just stunning and amazing. The early part of this book felt dated to me - it was published in 1977 - and reminded me a lot of early Margaret Atwood (another Canadian, of course!). The character of Charleen is rather passive and neurotic, but in a familiar (to me) kind of way. It really picks up and finds its center when we meet the sister and the mother. The characters and the relationships are so finely drawn and so true to life. The ending...more
Here Ms. Shields goes again--her wit captures the way we think and the idiosyncrasies we all have. As her fellow the Brits would say: she is "spot on" when it comes to her insights into people--just regular people like our family and friends.
One quote to illustrate her talent with words: "My blouse clings to me across the back. It is an old blouse, six years old at least, with a collar that sags. There is too much material under the arms suggesting rolls of mottled matronly flesh; I should have...more
First published in 1995, this book has been one of the unread books on my shelf until I decided recently to read it. I loved the book from the very beginning. The struggle between the daughters and their mother, the mother and her demons, the family and their issues all had moments of recognition for me of my own life. The surprise turn in the story had me catching my breath.. I did not see it coming. I wanted to put the book down when I got to the last few pages to make the joy of reading the s...more
I was somewhat disappointed by this book--found it oddly passionless. But I did read it through to the end.

I found myself just wanting to shake Charleen sometimes. But her son is adorable and I figure mothers of teenagers are allowed to be wacky at times.

Note: I read this in 2006 and then later found out the author was terminally ill. It took me a while to get over my guilt at not liking the book of a dying woman, but I did. Her Stone Diaries does remain one of my favorite book memories.
I didn't realize there was a Carol Shields that I had missed. It's a fairly early work so it was interesting to see the elements that would later become so better realized in The Stone Diaries. What's really strong here is her peripheral characters, particularly her mother, lover, son, sister and mother's fiance. They were so real to me in a way that the narrator didn't seem to be. It's a bit dated but still a lovely read, if only for the sense of a moment of contentment on a train ride across C...more
This was nowhere near as gripping as "Stone Diaries." I was impatient with the protagonist's lack of self confidence and incessant whining about her condition. Yet, as the plot unfolds and she learns to just relax and accept things as they are, I liked her better. The mother's wedding was a good vehicle for examinations of the troubled past. I was totally taken aback by the son's kidnapping--or not. The protagonist grows by the books' end in positve ways, yet I was never really engaged with her.
Cordelia Becker
Good writer. I like the way she made me care about these very simple and ordinary people. I read it because I read a reference to a girl who grew up in with a mother who obsessively decorated their house - painting walls, changing curtains etc. I kind of do that and I know a lot of women who more time than they have doing that sort of thing. I am always trying to understand the lives of women (including myself) better - I don't know if this book helped me do that or not but I enjoyed it.
I’m always impressed with short novels full of amazing, thought provoking paragraphs that make you stop and reflect on the author’s skillful ability to create a beautifully written, spare and perceptive story. Not as wonderful as The Stone Diaries (which I loved) and somewhat dated because it was written in 1977. I still enjoyed The Box Garden. It was a tender and sometimes heartbreaking short story about a flawed relationship between a mother and her daughters.
Charleen is a divorcee in her mid-thirties, eeking out a living as a poet. This book is not written as a poem, but the poetry is there in her thoughts in Charleen's thoughts. Carol Shields is an internationally known author who has won many awards for her novels and short stories. I can see why. Very good. Well thought out. Not shallow at all. A five-star read because it is a good examination of the inner thoughts of human beings living their everyday lives.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Suomeksi Ruohonvihreää. 70-luvulla kirjoitettu ja nyt suomennettu. Hienoa ajankuvaa ja fiilistä, jotenkin hennosti piirrettyjä ihmishahmoja omituisuuksineen ja ominaisuuksineen, vikoineen kaikkineen. Silti lämmin ja yllättävä. Kaksi aivan erilaista siskosta matkustavat äitinsä luokse, joka on vanhoilla päivillään menossa uudelleen naimisiin.
Daniel Kukwa
Exceptionally easy to read, this is a lovely combination of self-identity struggle, and contemplation on the transition between the hippy dreams of the 60s and the suburban life explosion of the 70s. There's even a twist near the end that prevents the novel from becoming too precious for its own good.
I am always amazed by Carol Shields' books, and The Box Garden is no exception. She takes the most ordinary cast of characters and situations and turns them into people you care about and conflicts that seem timeless and universal. I come away from her books feeling like I know more about life.
Sarah Toomey
I enjoyed this book, it was a nice easy read & a lovely Story about a woman's relationship with her family. The story flowed naturally & I could identify with some aspects of her life. No ones relationships with family/partners is straightforward & this story tells that.
Characters and situations develop in that wonderfully natural way that I've loved in other Carol Shields stories. Despite being written in 1977, I didn’t find this book to be dated, but simply charmingly situated. Definitely an enjoyable read.
Amazing what a really wonderful writer can do with an overused plot device: the return to an unhappy childhood home after many years.
Shields' voice is so true, the characters smart and believable. A bit of an Alice Munro and Anne Tyler mix.
B Interesting story of a woman going back to her roots. Struggling with poverty, raising a son as a single mother, a woman returns to her hometown for her elderly mother's wedding -- and discovers a lot about her love, her family, and herself.
Having loved The Stone Diaries, I had high expectations for this one...somewhat disappointed. Excellent writing but couldn't connect to the characters and didn't care about what they were experiencing...
Apr 05, 2013 Lara rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
A divorced woman goes back home to celebrate her mother's second wedding. Wry observations of family and relationships, and powerful characterisations - especially of the life-squelching elderly mother.
Arlene Richards
A well written, insightful story about a fragile, dependent divorce who very slowly reaches maturity and escapes the guilt associated with her failed marriage and the yearning for her former husband
I enjoyed the characters and story , but I really battled to finish this book - I did not enjoy her writing style. This was the first of her books I have read and I don't think I will try any others.
Louise Mccaul
I find myself drawn to 1970s Canadian literature. Reading Atwood, Munro and now Shields gives me a better sense of myself, for me they are essential for negotiating womanhood in Ireland in 2010.
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Carol Ann Shields was an American-born Canadian author. She is best known for her successful 1993 novel The Stone Diaries, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction as well as the Governor General's Award. Her novel Swann won the Best Novel Arthur Ellis Award in 1988.

More about Carol Shields...
The Stone Diaries Unless Larry's Party The Republic of Love Jane Austen: A Life

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