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3.70  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,446 Ratings  ·  89 Reviews
Carol Shields's award-winning and critically acclaimed "literary mystery," first published in 1987.

is the story of four individuals who become entwined in the life of Mary Swann, a rural Canadian poet whose authentic and unique voice is discovered only hours before her husband hacks her to pieces.Who is Mary Swann? And how could she have produced these works of geniu
Paperback, 416 pages
Published October 22nd 1996 by Vintage Canada (first published 1987)
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Best Canadian Literature
199th out of 842 books — 784 voters
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Canadian Bookish Novels
2nd out of 14 books — 11 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,570)
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Oct 16, 2014 Teresa rated it it was amazing
As someone who's read quite a bit of Shields, I've noticed in the past that she has an early nonfiction work called Susanna Moodie: Voice And Vision. I know nothing else of Moodie (except that she's also been an influence on Margaret Atwood) but when I started this, I had to wonder if any hoopla surrounding the recognition of Moodie in Canada informed this work. And in turn I also wondered if the writing of this led to Shields' The Stone Diaries a few years later. I would have to reread the latt ...more
Feb 04, 2013 Sarah rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
Am I being petty? I don't know...

But when you consider what Carol Shields was capable of...

The Stone Diaries was a masterpiece. One of my very favorites. This one never quite came together as it should have done. There is a glimmer of something here. I like the idea of the novel. A kind of sparse poeticism would have served the premise, beautifully. Shields, however, opted to describe every mundane moment in excruciating detail: nouns piled upon nouns.

Why do authors do this? Are they paid by the
Theryn Fleming
Swann (sometimes titled Swann: A Mystery) is about farmwife Mary Swann and how she is "discovered" and turned into a minor poet worthy of academic analysis. Despite the sometimes-subtitle, Swann is more wry and cutting than mysterious. (There is a mystery, but it's a rather transparent one.) Although it's a novel, it's really a critique of the literary and academic publishing worlds. The book is also kind of experimental—each section is told in a different way. The first section is most novelist ...more
Kate S
Mar 29, 2014 Kate S rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
I like Carol Shields. I like the characters she creates. I enjoy the positions in which she puts said characters. I like her use of narrative blended with letter writing, journals and movie script. The story of Mary Swann as it comes out through 4 main Swann-ites is engaging. The researchers of Mary Swann are mostly likeable and each has his or her own flaws. I especially liked the character of Rose. I found there to be many layers to this story and can imagine discussing it on a variety of fron ...more
Jan 05, 2013 Shanna rated it really liked it
What happens when an unknown, uneducated farm woman (Mary Swann) writes amazing poetry? Scholars start the endless pursuit of uncovering her life, her inspirations, and her influences, because, you know, a woman with a simple life like hers couldn’t have possibly written like that! Swann is basically a novel about the ridiculousness of some academics. The most entertaining part of the book is the characters’ attempts to discover the so-called real Mary Swann. But, their attempts do not really re ...more
Jul 31, 2012 Bonnie rated it it was amazing
This book has everything and I think Carol Shields had a great time writing it. I think she put in everything we've all been told in writing classes not to do like changing POV, in the four stories each one about a different person and their relationship with Mary Swann the poet, there is a different POV for each one.
There is a mystery, burgleries, a murder, satire of college professors and what pompous egomaniacs they are and as if that weren't enough a screen play in thrown in at the end when
Manik Sukoco
It comes as quite a shock at the beginning of the fifth chapter of "Swann" to be reminded that Sarah Maloney, Morton Jimroy, Rose Hindmarch and Frederick Cuzzi area all fictional characters. By that time, having read each of their brushes with Mary Swann (who is also fictitious) and her poetry, you feel that you'd recognize them in a crowd.
In this early novel, Carol Shields shows the talent developed in later works, especially her penchant for using disparate literary styles to tell the story. H
Tim Weakley
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 30, 2015 Corey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My first Carol Shields. Is she always this good? This book can remind you of the power of literature to surprise and delight.
Maria Stevenson
Nov 15, 2014 Maria Stevenson rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 09, 2013 Susan rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I admit my bias – I’m in love with Shields’ writing style, and she doesn’t disappoint. So that gets four stars from me off the top. I get her tongue-in-cheek look at academia’s manipulation of piteous Mary Swann’s humble poetry, projecting star status onto it, and that made me smile or snicker occasionally. But I was not pulled into this book as with others of hers that deal with issues to really chew on. It was an enjoyable light summer read.
Mar 23, 2013 Tina rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book was so creative and I loved how the whole story revolved around a character that does not really materialize. The four central characters in this book were so unique and I loved how Carol Shields interconnected each of them. I have read this book several times and I just love it each time I read it. So mysterious, funny and just a really great read!
Simon Mcleish
Mar 13, 2013 Simon Mcleish rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
Originally published on my blog here in March 2010.

Mary Swann was originally published simply titled Swann, and this UK edition clearly suffers from a degree of bizarre schizophrenia in this respect: Mary Swann on the front cover, Swann in the page headers.

Carol Shields' fifth novel continues to look at the concerns which informed much of her writing, principally the life stories of the kind of ordinary women who would often be dismissed as unimportant. But here Mary Swann is not herself a chara
Mar 24, 2010 Robin rated it it was amazing
This is one of those books that is difficult to get through, but well worth it. The first section irritated me so much that I almost gave up. If I hadn't bought the book, I probably wouldn't have finished it (even though it was for book club).

But this author went on to show me that a quick judgment can keep you from the prize. The first four sections were written from four different characters views. But better than that, her style changed with each one.

First section: first person
Second section:
Cheryl (Bored in Vernal)
May 20, 2008 Cheryl (Bored in Vernal) rated it really liked it
I read this book cover to cover and could find no possible correlation between the content and the nude picture on the cover (I was reading the 1987 edition). I'm not prudish enough to worry about it, but it did make reading the book around my 13-year-old son or on the shuttle to work a bit awkward!

Well! Now that that's off my chest, I can say that this was one of the most literarily delicious books I have ever read. I would have given it five stars, but I didn't like the convention of ending th
Jan 01, 2011 Windy2go rated it it was ok
Hm. I finished it, so it was compelling enough. But it was kind of dull, a bit bizarre, and morally questionable. The plot was vaguely a "mystery" shaped around an obscure poet and a symposium in her honor. There was not much to recommend the poet. Not much to recommend the other characters. And the mystery did not play a central role in the book. So what was the point? I suspect the point was feminist personality analysis. I was interested in the way the author portrayed the various characters ...more
Aug 15, 2011 Heidi rated it liked it
Luettuani juuri musiikin ja sen tekijöiden vinoon menneestä fanituksesta, Shields kertoo hiukan saman tarinan kirjallisuuden puolelta.

Tuntematon kanadalaisrunoilija nousee pienen kirjallisuuspiirin intohimojen kohteeksi. Tutkijat, keräilijät, kustantaja ja kotikylä, kaikki kilpailevat edesmenneen runoilijan ”omistusoikeudesta”. Kenellä on oikeus niihin harvoihin reliikkeihin, joita runoilijalta jäi jälkeen, kuka saa tehdä tulkintoja hänen runoistaan, elämästään ja vaikutteistaan.

Shields kuvaa bi
Dec 01, 2014 Kate rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kate by: Thomas Otto
Shelves: 2014-books
This is the first Carol Shields' novel for me and I think the last. It is an award winner, but I did not understand the premise. The writing was okay and the beginning of the book was fine if occasionally tedious. The ending made no sense to me; I think the author thought I would "get it", but I did not. Thomas of The Readers suggested it as a book for his fellow co-host Simon as well as Ann and Michael from Books on the Nightstand. I am eager to see if they read it and their conclusions about i ...more
Aug 20, 2015 Trudy rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 14, 2014 Amardip rated it really liked it
Shelves: recommend
This novel takes a satirical look at academia and its deconstruction of art through criticism and research resulting in the reconstruction of the art in the image of the critics. The first four sections are essentially character studies of the four main characters that could stand alone and yet are effectively intertwined with the other main characters. I love how Carol Shields' writing just flows effortlessly and how she can make the most ordinary characters and situations interesting and relat ...more
Tina Siegel
Dec 31, 2011 Tina Siegel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I'm surprised by how much I loved this book - I just devoured it! The characters are wonderfully drawn - quirky and imperfect and totally endearing. I particularly enjoy Frederic Cruzzi. And I love the structure of the book, how it bends and shifts with the characters. An excellent read! Highly reccommended.
Jan 23, 2016 Sanna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Oikein luettava kirja. Henkilögalleria oli kiinnostava ja tapa, jolla runoilija Mary Swann sitoi yhteen koko stoorin oli minusta kiva. Loppu oli vähän töksähtävä ja tylsä, vaikka viimeiset kymmenen sivua olivatkin superkoukuttavat!
Kolme ja puoli-neljä tähteä antaisin näin tuoreeltaan.
Carole Besharah
Jun 02, 2014 Carole Besharah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Today would have been Carol Shields' 79th birthday. To honour her memory, I posted a full version of this review @ . Thanks for reading!

Fans and scoffers of literary fiction will enjoy Carol Shields’s Swann —a novel that plays with mystery-genre tropes by transforming them into believable characters. Shields pokes fun at academic interpretations by making us question the motive of four flawed characters. Their lives intertwine —fleetingly and cleverly— because of
Sep 21, 2015 Dianne rated it really liked it
This is one of the more unusual books I've read recently. As the story begins, we learn that Mary Swann has written a book of poems, and that she has been murdered.

Each subsequent chapter is written from the point of view of a different character. Some of these people are unlikeable, others not, but all are very skillfully drawn and interesting. The last chapter is written as if it were a screenplay about a symposium to which all the people we've come to know are invited.

I became very fond of Fr
Kate Hinds
Mar 12, 2015 Kate Hinds rated it really liked it
I thought this was an interesting book about authorship. The poet of the title literally disappeared at the end as artefacts from her life also disappeared. It also emerged that her published poems had been rescued and altered in the rescue attempt by her editor, and published after her death - so in what sense could you say these poems were written by her? I was reminded of the mysteries surrounding Shakespeare - how little we know about his life, and are the folio versions of his plays written ...more
Feb 13, 2014 Taryn rated it liked it
This novel was a wonderful surprise (the author is a Pulitzer Prize winner but I can't say I'd heard of her before). In a nutshell, it's a "literary mystery" about a Canadian poetess who was published and gained some renown only after her husband violently murdered her and then himself. The structure of the book is what I found the most intriguing: it's made of 4 personal narratives by the people trying to piece together the leftover shreds of who Mary Swann was. The final portion is written in ...more
Jul 13, 2008 Ollie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: poets and people interested in literary theory
Recommended to Ollie by: Margaret Atwood
Mary Swann, a farmer's wife in rural Ontario, is murdered and dismembered by her possessive husband just before her first book of poetry is published. Years later, four different people - a feminist writer, an unscrupulous biographer, the local librarian who knew her and the man who published her poems - relive their connection to Swann as they travel to the first symposeum dedicated to her work.

This novel intelligently asks whether an uneducated person can create moving poetry, and how well we
TE Wilson
Aug 26, 2015 TE Wilson rated it liked it
Not her best book. This literary mystery gets off to a good start, and held me well into the second half, whereupon I read on in a amazement as things fell apart. It is a strange experience to have strong writing and a strong narrative push come to pieces just when all the strength could be put to good use. The denouement is just stupid; hard to believe, really.
Jun 26, 2014 M rated it really liked it

Funny and postmodern-lite, Shields wraps commentary about anxious modern-day lives against a historical mystery.
Connecting one to the other will give any reader reason to smile ... while questioning 'What do we really ever know about the past?'
Feb 20, 2011 Jessica rated it really liked it
This book is written from the points of view of four different characters (in four distinct sections), with a fifth section in which the four characters meet at a literary conference dedicated to a murdered poet whose fame all of them have some interest in promoting. I enjoyed this calculated and interesting form.
However, this book has been billed as a "literary mystery" but I had the mystery solved as soon as I knew what mystery was being referred to(and it isn't the murder, in case you are wo
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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...

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