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The Custodian of Paradise

(Newfoundland Trilogy #2)

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  1,008 ratings  ·  125 reviews
In the waning days of World War II, Sheilagh Fielding makes her way to a deserted island off the coast of Newfoundland. But she soon comes to suspect another presence: that of a man known only as her Provider, who has shadowed her for twenty years. Against the backdrop of Newfoundland's history and landscape, Fielding is a compelling figure. Taller than most men and striki ...more
Hardcover, 582 pages
Published April 17th 2007 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 2006)
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3.84  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,008 ratings  ·  125 reviews

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Aug 15, 2017 rated it liked it
And that's how it started, Miss Fielding, the very serious but entertaining game of inventing synonyms for God and imagining what it was like after he cast out his fraternal twins and paradise was deserted but for him. The “hermit of paradise” we called him. “The recluse of paradise.” Even “the charlatan of paradise,” because we could not shake the notion that the fall was “fixed”. My favourite was “the custodian of paradise.” “We are all three of us, you and I and Miss Fielding, custodians,” I
Jennifer (aka EM)
Aug 13, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: CanLit lovers; character-based stories; romantics who love a good yarn spun well
Wayne Johnston is a national (Canadian) treasure. He creates characters both real and fictional who can come from only one place: Newfoundland. Even when he transplants them to New York temporarily or permanently, as he seems to do frequently (not sure why), they still retain their quirky idiosyncrasies that mark them as Newfoundlanders. That his tales are tall--even when dealing with historical figures such as Joey Smallwood--is irrelevant, when the characters are this appealing and this richly ...more
Sep 08, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: can-lit, 2014
I think it would have been better to have read The Colony of Unrequited Dreams before reading this novel. Apparently readers were introduced to the main character, Sheilagh Feilding, in that book and were left wanting to learn more about her. As a stand alone character I found her to be a character who was so difficult to like, hard to sympathize with and even harder to truly understand. She is so self-destructive and pushes away everyone who likes and/or tries to help or befriend her. She is br ...more
Rebecca McNutt
Sep 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
The Custodian of Paradise is a great book, sometimes repetitive, but overall very well-written. I loved the Newfoundland setting, too. :)
Nov 02, 2013 rated it liked it
Surely, a wish that a fictional character be something other than the person portrayed by its author, tells us more about a reader than it reveals anything about the book. Just as surely, if an author has any at all understanding of his story, he has the right to birth his characters in the image of his choosing. And yet, I can't refrain from feeling disappointment at Wayson Johnston's disfigurement of Sheilagh Fielding in his sequel ("sequel" is a stretch for much of the novel; "reiteration," t ...more
Oct 12, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I'm travelling I like to read fiction set in that part of the world. In this case, I was in Newfoundland and wanted something "Newfunese". I particularly enjoyed Baltimore's Mansion by Johnston and thought Colony of Unrequited Dreams was pretty good so I chose another by him. (I was very pleased to discover that they study the former in highschool there.) To say that the protagonist, Sheilagh Feilding, has had a hard life is like saying Newfoundland is a bit rocky. In fact her life has been ...more
Apr 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read this book after I saw the play Colony of Unrequited Dreams at Neptune Theatre in Halifax. It helped me understand some of where Sheilagh Fielding was coming from in the play. It is an interesting story and she is probably one of the most unique characters I have seen in a novel. I enjoy her witty and most often sarcastic comments and responses to other characters. I brought the book with me on vacation and wanted to keep reading it on the beach. There are some interesting relationships . ...more
A beautifully crafted story of one of the most memorable characters in Canadian literature. Wayne Johnston writes about the estranged life of Sheilagh Fielding, who readers met in The Colony of Unrequited Dreams. Sheilagh's heart and soul laid bare, the past that she continues to be haunted by lead her to choose a remote island off the coast of Newfoundland to confront her demons and yet it is not as the reclusive Sheilagh had thought. Will she find the answers she is looking for or continue to ...more
Nov 03, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club
This was a book club selection and perhaps the fact that I had a lot going on while I was reading coloured my opinion, however, I did not enjoy this book. It was way too long ( a comment that most of the rest of the book club made) and I really didn't care about the characters, the mystery or why the characters did what they did. The writing was very good, however, and we had a very good discussion about the book.
Mar 31, 2018 added it
Apart from The Divine Ryans, I like Johnston’s Fielding books best. Gives me hope for the newest one. I am slowly growing tired of the “Luke, I’m not really your father” mode that Johnston seems to be mired in. At least in this one, mothers and sons, mothers and daughters, fathers and daughters, even sisters and brothers play a significant role in addition to the eternal father/son tension that informs all of Johnston’s books.
Karen S.
Nov 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
It drug on in a few places. Overall a good story.
Belinda Waters
This book took me forever to read. It was good writing but not an easy one to read.
Jan 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A gripping book that once you settle into it demands you keep reading. Johnston's prose makes you thoughtful and the story is a heartbreaking mystery, not quite a tragedy but the musings of reality. Beautiful descriptions and a cast of characters you both feel sad for and are amused by feed the plot in what feels like it could be a dream, or some memory one tries hard to forget but must eventually reconcile.
Feb 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
I adore Wayne Johnston. I think that few writers have had his mastery of language since Charles Dickens, and those of you who know the depths of my mad-crazy Dickens love know that that's the biggest compliment I can give to a writer.

I loved The Colony of Unrequited Dreams and the mysterious character of Fielding that kept popping up throughout it, so I was excited to read this book, knowing it was from Fielding's POV and would fill in a lot of the gaps and answer a lot of the questions in TCoUD
Gail Amendt
Aug 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
WARNING - if you have not yet read The Colony Of Unrequited Dreams, and think you might like to do so, read it before you read The Custodian of Paradise. While both books are said to stand alone, The Custodian of Paradise is a sequel, and I think would serve as quite a spoiler if one read the two books in the wrong order. I am so glad that I got to know the delightfully unconventional, tragically damaged and hilariously witty Sheilagh Fielding in The Colony of Unrequited Dreams before I got to k ...more
Dec 02, 2008 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Peter B
Dec 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
This novel has an absolutely tremendous first 100 pages. The female protagonist finds a small deserted island to live on. She is trying to deal with her past and presumably her present. The island off the coast of Newfoundland is an abandoned townsite with a pack of dogs and a herd of horses. And then it goes into a series of letters and a series of conversations set up by the author to show just how clever at repartee he could be. In short, the novel seems to be Johnson entertaining himself.
Ruth Seeley
May 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
Johnston is a master storyteller, and The Custodian of Paradise is no exception. This novel focuses on Sheilagh Fielding's odd life (readers of The Colony of Unrequited Dreams will remember her from that novel). Long, but worthwhile. This novel may be challenging for young readers - it may be difficult for them to believe how damaging something as commonplace as divorce was a century ago, how scandalous it was for a woman to smoke and drink, how an illegitimate birth could ruin not only her life ...more
Mary Jo
Jun 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book was haunting. There is a type of mystery, as I guessed and wondered about the identity of the prime people in the life of the main character. But it was such a portrayal of deep cultural biases and prejudices. It is a tragic story of deep wounds from early relationships. The story pulled me along. I could not put it down.
Jan 27, 2017 added it
Shelves: 2017
Language. That is this book for me. All about the choice and placement of the words.
Homiletic. Shibboleth. Philippic....
And the 1st person account with letters...and the puns oh my! I was in awe of Mr. Johnston. The story was the background to the words but I stayed with the mystery to the end.
Jul 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Easily the most elegant book I've read this year. With brilliant dialogue, exquisite wordsmithing, and an intriguing and cohesive plot line, it tells the story of a woman author who seeks solace on an insulated Newfoundland island. This is a winner-please read.
Oct 28, 2017 rated it liked it
First of all, you must read "The Colony of Unrequited Dreams" before this one. The two books are set in tandem, but knowing what goes on in the first book helps a great deal when reading the second one. Here we again encounter Sheilagh Fielding, and "The Custodian of Paradise" is all about Fielding, her troubled life, and her painful journey to discover both the truth of her parentage and grieve for her son. Again, Johnston uses multiple narratives, such as journal entries, letters, articles, an ...more
Paula Dembeck
Mar 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the story of Sheilagh Fielding, the character we all loved from Johnson’s former novel, “The Colony of Unrequited Dreams”. Many of us were captivated by this complex woman and interested to know her story. Having read the former novel, we know the broad outline of the plot in this tale, but there is a new character in this story we have not met before.

As the story opens, Sheilagh (for the most part known as just “Fielding”)is on her way by boat to Loreburn, a deserted Newfoundland islan
Connie Cook
Dec 10, 2017 rated it liked it
This book seemed long, it was very wordy so I skimmed some of it. Shaleigh is a very tall (over six feet) girl who’s mother deserts her and her father when she is six. Her father, Dr. Fielding, always suspects that he is not the father. She is so witty and the things she writes are amazing. Her pen is very “sharp” and she is self confident. She ends up pregnant at 14 and is secrety shipped off to deliver the twins in her mother’s home with her doctor husband. The twins will be her mother’s child ...more
Mar 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I like Johnston's writing and Sheilagh Fielding is my favourite of his characters. After reading First Snow, Last Light, I realized that I had missed the story of Fielding's earlier life, except what was told in The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, so I looked for this book. She is a tortured soul, as is shown in all stages of her life, and the people who should have looked after her were emotionally incompetent. Even her Provider did not help her in the way she needed and lied about the most import ...more
Jan 16, 2018 rated it liked it
What a long book. It felt like it could have used some more editing. A lot of stream of consciousness in the writing . I liked parts of it and really felt bored with other parts of it. I liked some of the characters , yet loathed others. I am having difficulty trying to figure out how to rate the book. I think this is the case of "at another time I would have put the book down and picked it up at a more convenient time", I had other books I wanted to get to, and so this one dragged a lot more th ...more
Kristin Maillard
Mar 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Possibly my favourite Wayne Johnston to date. A stark, flawed, beautiful and haunting character who meets lifes heartaches with the defense of sarcasm and a rapier like wit. I love the drawings of the landscapes of Newfoundland. I feel myself borne down by the same futility and buoyed up by the same defiance as our main character, Fielding, who is neither as resilient nor as cavalier as she pretends. Not a "happy" story yet, still, one I couldn't put down and that will stay with me for many days ...more
Jun 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Wayne Johnston is talented in so many literary areas, and proved himself a great mystery writer again in this story. I believe I read this trilogy in the correct order, Colony of Unrequited Dreams, then First Snow Last Light, finishing with Custodian of Paradise. Each book was a treasure in its own right, but the trilogy seems complete with the detailed story of Shelagh Fielding. He has created a great story of Newfoundland’s journey into Confederation, as well as insight into the character of i ...more
Sep 17, 2017 rated it liked it
Very clever writing but hard to really get into the characters, I thought. seems very unlikely that a woman in Newfoundland during WW 2 could get away with that behaviour or that her "Provider" could have done all the things he did, including remaining out of sight on the Bonavista without being detected, particularly as he seemed to be of limited means. Seemed REALLY long a times but I did feel it was worth persevering to find out the answers to the questions that Fielding was struggling with.
Briar Ransberry
Aug 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Wayne Johnston repeatedly succeeds in making unlikeable characters sympathetic and petty realities larger than life. There's something mythical about the geography and the people in his novels, as though they speak of deeper mysteries than are revealed.

The writing is at times layered so thick in irony as to be almost opaque and at other times I found myself looking up from the page to let the beauty of his words steep in my brain for a while before I moved on.

I was weirdly drawn into this book
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Other books in the series

Newfoundland Trilogy (3 books)
  • The Colony of Unrequited Dreams
  • First Snow, Last Light