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Unless

3.62 of 5 stars 3.62  ·  rating details  ·  8,571 ratings  ·  713 reviews
Forty-four-year-old Reta Winters, wife, mother, writer, and translator, is living a happy life until one of her three daughters drops out of university to sit on a downtown street corner silent and cross-legged with a begging bowl in her lap and a placard round her neck that says "Goodness."

The final book from Pulitzer Prize-winner Carol Shields, Unless is a candid and dee
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ebook, 352 pages
Published March 17th 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published 2002)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Paul
Did I tell you I just clocked up a count of just over 500 novels read, according to my GR novels shelf? Hey, how about that. It must make me some kind of authority now. I can dish out advice, start up a helpline, I know which novel to attach to the St Bernard dog to take to the fallen climber in the Alps.

Except, I’m actually getting worse at picking novels to read. I just checked, and 13 out of 27 novels read so far this year have got a 1 or 2 star rating, i.e. I hated them & felt they were
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Shovelmonkey1
Oct 11, 2011 Shovelmonkey1 rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who have kids
Recommended to Shovelmonkey1 by: 1001 books blind date
The 1001 books list is great for introducing you to authors that you were not previously familiar with. It's like a little black book literary dating service and without shame or embarrassment it will lead you by the clammy hand to meet a new author without you feeling half-witted, socially inept and geeky for making the effort or for not having made the effort earlier.

Here Shovelmonkey1, it says, meet some new authors. Put your eyes between their pages and let their words roam around in your h
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Lydia
"Unless" is the last book Shields wrote before she succumbed to cancer. Written in true literary style, the book chronicles the life of a novelist/translator as she copes with the withdrawal of her daughter from college to a mute sitting on a street corner with a sign which simply reads "Goodness". All phases and forms of woman as creator of life, words, information, and emotion; as mother, daughter, sister, friend; as intellectual and emoter; and as feminist, femme, activist, accommodator and p ...more
Cynthia
I was so bored reading this book. It started out boring in the first chapter when she listed all of her works and explained her translations. I'm not one of those type of readers where a book has to immediately grip you in the beginning otherwise you quit. So I kept on reading hoping it would get better... but it didn't.

The book focuses on how Reta deals with her daugher, Norah's, strange decision to live in a shelter and to beg on the streets. Reta starts to believe the reason why Norah became
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Pierce
Dec 03, 2007 Pierce rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Women, I guess.
Kind of self indulgent, maybe? I don't know. People keep telling me it was all about the mother's flustering about with tangental stuff to ignore the problem of her daughter, but if you write a novel about not dealing with something then what people are actually reading is whatever the distraction is, here: Feminism.

And then we find out about the daughter at the end and suddenly it all seems, like: What the fuck was that about? Why did I have to read so many descriptions of your house furnishing
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Amy
Jul 13, 2008 Amy rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: smart women and smarter men.

This is my favorite Carol Shields book so far, and that is saying a lot because I adore Carol Shields. This novel was short-listed for the Booker. There is so much here, but it is portrayed in the classic slow, sensitive, Shieldsian manner. Those who think there is "nothing going on here" or that it's "too slow" or "boring" are most certainly missing a great deal. This novel invites a second or third read as well.
K.D. Absolutely
Dec 23, 2010 K.D. Absolutely rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 500 Must Read Books, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006 version), Shorlisted in Man Booker 2003
Shelves: 1001-core, 501, drama
A woman writer working on her second novel. Then suddenly, with no particular reason, her eldest daughter leaves college and her boyfriend and begs in the street of Toronto with a placard sign on her neck that reads: "GOODNESS". The daughter refuses to speak to the mother or anybody. Just like that.

Yes, the plot is just like that but the way Carol Shields (1935-2003) writes is different from what I've read so far. It is fluid, supple and multi-layered or multi-pronged. I would imagine that if t
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Jeanne
I waited patiently for this book to come out in softback so that I could read the final novel by Carol Shields. It just so happened that it came out right around my wedding and so I had to hang on to it as I was a little busy and preoccupied with planning. I took it with me on my honeymoon and I remember pulling it out of my book bag, slathering on some sunscreen and settling myself onto a raft in the pool.

I finished the book in about two days with a wicked sunburn. But what I remember the most
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Ron Charles
You wouldn't expect it from her, but Carol Shields has written a naughty book. Put your yellow highlighter down: There's no sex, but the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "The Stone Diaries" is doing something indecorous here -- ribbing our notions of grief, even snickering at what inspires us.

Her latest novel, a mischievous monologue called "Unless," begins with lamentations. Reta Winters once had it all: a loving partner who's a successful doctor, three smart daughters, a beautiful house outsid
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Philip
Unless by Carol Shields has been my third novel in a row written from the perspective of a self-analytical, self-critical and perhaps self-obsessed female narrator, the other being by Margaret Drabble and Anne Enright. Maybe Carol Shields drew the short straw, because I felt that Reta, the writer-narrator of Unless, internalised everything, so much so, in fact, that the other characters in the book became no more than projections of themselves within her. Maybe that was part of the point.

Ostensi
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Catherine
I was initially offended by the description of Sheilds as a "gentle feminist." This double-edged sword of a description seemed an attempt at making a dirty word like "feminist" more palatable to the general public. The feminist in me roared, "Why must a woman still be described as 'gentle'?!"

Upon reflection, though, I have realized that Sheilds truly is a gentle feminist, in the best way possible. While the ultimate quest in this story is the protagonist's daughter's quest for goodness, there is
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Tiffany
In a manner more eloquent than I could ever manage, this book expresses everything I feel about modern feminism and why it's still very much a necessity.

Heartbreaking. Beautiful. Consuming. These are only a small portion of words that can begin to describe Unless by Carol Shields. Reta Winters' daughter is so overwhelmed by her desire to experience every success and beauty the world has to offer, but her realization that she can never have everything as a woman is too much to bear. As a result,
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Ben Babcock
I bought this book as a Christmas gift for someone, attracted to it by its recent accolade of competing on Canada Reads. I have never before read anything by Carol Shields, and when I buy books that I haven't read before with the intention of giving them to other people, I tend to read them myself first. So I embarked upon Unless not knowing all that much about it, knowing only that it had won a poll entitling it to a spot in a national debate, only that it was some sort of book about a mother i ...more
Chelsie
I absolutely love Carol Shields use of irregular words in this book(by irregular I mean unconventional). This book took me longer to read than most because I found myself constantly intrigued by the words she was using and made me feel the need to keep looking them on in the dictionary. Although this book is not typically my style of book, I did find it well thought out and interesting. I loved that Carol Shields made her character, Reta Winters a writer, as so vastly explores the life inside a ...more
Julie
Ugh--I couldn't even finish this book. This is only the third time I have ever been unable to complete a book once I started reading it. I really gave it a good try. I didn't set it aside until I had forced myself to read at least 50 pages.

From reading the synopsis, I thought the book would be about the dynamics of the mother and daughter's relationship and the disintegration of such. This was all about the books that the mother authored and her feelings. The daughter was hardly mentioned in the
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Carolyn
this was the worst book ever. i thought the premise was interesting (the back cover describes a story of a mother who's eldest daughter gives up her college life to live on a street corner wearing a sign that says 'goodness'). the daughter is barely mentioned, however the mother goes into nauseating, never-ending whining about her writing career/lack of writing career.... it's horrid. i kept waiting for her to go into more detail about the daughter, but it never happened. needless to say, i gave ...more
C.
Unless is really quite good. And I really mean quite good, not brilliant, not bad, but quite good. It's quiet and peaceful and pretty and enjoyable without being mind-blowing. It is full of beautiful moments, and the language is really nice. It is subtle. In fact, it's so subtle that it's difficult to work out why it works as well as it does. Maybe I'll just let the text do the talking.

"I'm not interested, the way some people are, in being sad. I've had a look, and there's nothing down that road
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Carole
I read Unless about 10 or 12 years ago when it first came out. I know that I enjoyed it then but I am so glad that I decided to read it again because I had forgotten how much I loved this wonderful book.

On the one hand, this is the quintessential feminist novel, exploring the many ways in which women are invisible in our world. At the same time, Shields muses about the art of writing fiction, presenting the thoughts of her writer main character as an obvious reflection of her own philosophy on
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Carolyn Francis
I completely adored this book, although I can easily imagine many others wouldn't. Sometimes reading a novel is an intensely personal experience and, for me, this was. Reta Winters is an accomplished writer and translator whose life circumstances have taken a horrid and striking turn; her much loved and well educated 19 year daughter has taken to begging on a Toronto street corner with a cardboard sign declaring "GOODNESS" around her neck. Gratefully my own circumstances are quite different, and ...more
Mary Novaria
Unless, a novel by Pulitzer Prize winner (for The Stone Diaries which I've just ordered!) Carol Shields was published in 2002, the year before her death from cancer. Somehow, I missed this author until a friend recently (and thankfully) lent me her copy of Unless which, even at almost 10-years-old, is as contemporary and astute as anything written today. Isn't that kind of relevance over time one of the characteristics of a truly great story?

Things are going swimmingly for Reta Winters until a
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Christine
I didn't like the idea that flowed thru this book that women are oppressed and of no significance to men. I think that this feminist writer had a 'woes me' attitude and eagerly blamed the mental problems of the clinically depressed on men.
It sounded like the mother was losing her mind as she was writing letters to men that she thought were ignoring the achievements of women. She also used her daughter's tragedy to justify her feelings. If my daughter had chosen to sit on a corner with a sign at
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Anne
Aug 10, 2008 Anne rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All, especially women
This may be one of my all-time favorite books. It is about women, loss, philosophical self-questioning, family, art, and goodness (whatever that is). I think the glints of humor that shine through make these sometimes truly disturbing stories palatable.
Jsharp
Interesting to me, but I don't know if it would be for others. It's about literature, disappointment, and finding your purpose on this planet as a woman. Touches on topics likes grief, loneliness, and hopelessness.
Jayne Charles
The cover of this book makes it look like one of those 'Tragic Life Stories' that occupy a whole bookshelf in WHSmith and which I would rather have all my toenails pulled out than read. In contrast this book is actually very literary, unashamedly cerebral in tone, and has a crick in its neck from all the navel gazing it indulges in. The book's middle aged narrator has a nineteen year old daughter who has chosen to abandon the family home and live on the street, begging. Each of the book's chapte ...more
Matthew Jones
Perhaps I'm too ignorant and/or possessing a cold heart of stone, but I struggled throughout Unless to tolerate the narrator's unswerving melancholy. Is it me or is Reta Winter's "dramatic loss" not dramatic enough to justify her reaction? I'm with the count your blessing crowds she finds so repulsive. The main problem I had with the book was that I just didn't believe the central premise. It didn't feel real or authentic and came across as more of a literary contrivance to support a theme. Also ...more
Alena
Although Carol Shields’ novel has a tragic background, it doesn’t focus on a traditional story. Instead, we meet Reta Winters, whose 19 year-old daughter has chosen to sit on a busy corner in Toronto wearing a sign that reads only, “Goodness.” Reta does not take dramatic action to retrieve her daughter. She does not yell or pull her hair. Instead, she thinks and she writes.
This kind of passive first-person storytelling will not work for all readers, but I loved Reta from page one.
“Happiness is
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Alexandra
A Canadian novelist/translator copes with what seems to be the beginnings of a mental breakdown in her college student daughter. The protagonist suspects that her daughter is not suffering from a mental break (she is essentially homeless and spends her days silently holding a sign reading "Goodness" while collecting donations (can it be begging if you do not ask?) but rather reacting to the realization that, as a woman, she is cut off from access to the fullness of the world/life experience.

Shi
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Selaine Henriksen
Eclectic barely describes my reading selections. I wonder, when I get to 20 books, what sort of recommendations Goodreads is going to give me. Moving on from the YA "Chimes" and the medieval fantasy stuff, I arrive at Carol Shields' "Unless".

She has her protagonist state that she is not unaware of the irony of a writer writing about another writer. That's the protagonist speaking so Carol, the author, is writing about a writer writing about a writer, writing about a writer. There is an element o
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Heather
I'm torn on this review. I agree with some of the favorable reviews that call it a 'thing of beauty', that say "Shields touches gently upon some of life's harshest surprises, acknowledges the fleetingness of happiness and reminds us how precious life is." and I also believe that Shields has a way with words and language, presenting them in written form beautifully. However, I do not think the story was 'compelling' or the characters 'endearing'. I could not get into it. My favorite parts were wh ...more
Krenzel
According to Peter Boxall’s "1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die," "Unless," by Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Carol Shields, is a seminal work worthy of being included in the "canon" – at least, according to the first edition of that guide (according to the second edition, published this year, we can now safely die without reading "Unless"). Interestingly, while Carol Shields is (to a limited extent) included in the "canon," one of the major questions she asks in "Unless" is why women are ...more
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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 Larry's Party The Republic of Love Jane Austen: A Life Swann

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“This is why I read novels: so I can escape my own unrelenting monologue.” 50 likes
“Bookish people, who are often maladroit people, persist in thinking they can master any subtlety so long as it's been shaped into acceptable expository prose.” 14 likes
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