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Swann

3.67 of 5 stars 3.67  ·  rating details  ·  1,178 ratings  ·  76 reviews
Carol Shields's award-winning and critically acclaimed "literary mystery," first published in 1987.

Swann
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
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Paperback, 416 pages
Published October 22nd 1996 by Vintage Canada (first published 1987)
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Best Canadian Literature
160th out of 708 books — 568 voters
Swann by Carol ShieldsNikolski by Nicolas DicknerLady Oracle by Margaret AtwoodBedtime Story by Robert J. WiersemaThe Tainted Trust by Stephen Douglass
Canadian Bookish Novels
1st out of 14 books — 10 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,982)
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Teresa
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
Sarah
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
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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
Bonnie
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
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Tim Weakley
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Shanna
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
Kate S
Mar 29, 2014 Kate S rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
Maria Stevenson
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Susan
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.
Tina
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
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
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Robin
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:
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Cheryl (Bored in Vernal)
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
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Windy2go
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
Heidi
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
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Kate
Dec 01, 2014 Kate rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  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
Amardip
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
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.
Carole Besharah
Today would have been Carol Shields' 79th birthday. To honour her memory, I posted a full version of this review @ http://grandbarda.wordpress.com/ . 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
...more
Taryn Chase
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
Ollie
Jul 13, 2008 Ollie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
...more
M

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?'
Jessica
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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Sskous
Interesting that after the first section, which I enjoyed, I found this book stressful; I don't think others would, though. When Shields moved more deeply into relationships between the academic characters, I squirmed as the really obnoxious foibles of the contemporary professoriate came to life. I'm not at all sorry to have left behind this group, which Swam portrays as smuggly preoccupied by their self interested pretense of superiority. Unhappy memories for me. I'll just conclude that althoug ...more
Diane
It was such a pleasure to dip back into Carol Shields fine writing, and exquisite character development. This is a quick, satisfying little read and a witty satire of the making and following of literary 'icons'.
Karina
This is a story about a newly discovered poetess who dies. Her life is a bit of mystery, her journal doesn't shed any light & she doesn't have any friends before she dies (due to a controlling & abusive husband).

I loved how the story was told from 4 different points of view by 4 different characters, only. I especially liked how the author finished each character synopsis & mini story while tying in the next character. Author did a wonderful job tying all the characters together in
...more
Shriya
In all honesty, this book was so unappealing. I couldn't get into it. I thought the plot was contrived, and a bit childish, especially towards the end. That being said, I definitely appreciated two things: 1. the level of vocabulary. You could tell the author had a good command of the English language. 2. The idea of using different perspectives, and different language styles to show the same event - cool stylistic devcie that did work to her advantage.

Overall though - a book has to be well writ
...more
Cayly Dixon
More great Shields. Dragged in some parts so not a 5. Enjoyable mystery plot too.
Barksdale Penick
It took me quite a while to figure out what was going on in this book--until the very end. From the description on the back of the book, I thought maybe it was a mystery story, but instead turned out to be a funny story of competition among academics discovering a little known Canadian poet. They all compete to take the few clues to her life and keep them hidden from the others. It is an improbable tale, but one that I enjoyed. I expect someone in the academic world would find it funny. Not a gr ...more
Loraxe
Neat little story.
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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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