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3.71  ·  Rating details ·  1,955 ratings  ·  137 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
Paperback, 416 pages
Published October 22nd 1996 by Vintage Canada (first published 1987)
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Average rating 3.71  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,955 ratings  ·  137 reviews

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Oct 10, 2014 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 ...more
Jul 19, 2019 added it
Shelves: canada, 20th-century

I'd missed this in my first round of reading Carol Shields, years ago, and perhaps it wasn't such a bad thing. It still holds Shields's charm: her quick wittedness, her humour, her irreverence about all things academic -- but only to a point. The first 2/3 of the novel pull you forward quickly, and then you come to a grinding halt. She chose to conclude this book in TV-script style; in a playbook. It's horrendously painful to read. I don't know whether it's because I suffer PTSD from
Jun 21, 2012 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 is thrown in at the end when
Jan 29, 2013 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 ...more
Kate S
Feb 15, 2014 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 ...more
Jun 05, 2009 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 ...more
May 23, 2015 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.
Khulud Khamis
Jul 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Years ago, I read Carol Shields' Unless. I still remember the way the book moved me. I have recently discovered her 1987 novel Swann, and I honestly don't understand why this book is not more well-known. It took me three days to read this riveting novel. I think any literature student who is keen on dissecting every line of a poem, trying to extricate – all too often forcefully – meaning out of every comma, dash, allusion, or trying to impose metaphor where there is only the object itself, ...more
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.
Tim Weakley
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 09, 2010 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:
Jul 26, 2013 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.
Aug 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
I love how this novel pokes fun at academia and some of our human foibles. The "mystery" isn't much of a mystery as its outcome is predictable from the first missing journal but the characters are loveable and the final chapter written as a screenplay just reinforces the dramas we participate in on a regular basis.
Mar 23, 2013 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!
Maria Stevenson
Nov 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Meg Trausch
Aug 23, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This was a waste of time
Stupid if I only was given one word to describe this book.
Simon Mcleish
Mar 13, 2013 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
Cheryl (Bored in Vernal)
May 20, 2008 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
Jun 02, 2014 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 ...more
Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Sarah Maloney, young academic, discovers the writing of Mary Swann, a forgotten Canadian poet, who produced only a handful of poems before her violent death. The books sets itself up to be an exploration of academia, poetry, feminism, but it disappointed me. Shields' writing is nuanced and accomplished, especially in the first section of this book, but despite her development of character and layers of imagery, it left me cold. The first four sections focus on four different characters, and ...more
May 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a thoroughly enjoyable read. Loved the interlocking narratives and the idea of a mystery centring round a literary symposium.
Jan 01, 2011 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
Oct 28, 2014 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 ...more
Tina Siegel
Dec 28, 2011 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.
Anthony Peter
Nov 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've been following my responses to this novel carefully. Given that I cavilled with what I think I described as the ostensible cleverness of 'The Poisonwood Bible' and what I found to be a hectoring agenda, I wondered why I wasn't responding similarly to this equally 'clever' piece of fiction.

Another reviewer comments on how she thought 'Mary Swann' showed no interest in characterisation. In this respect, she and I disagree, and I found my interest maintained by what for me was a successful
Bryn (Plus Others)
I loved this at first, but as it went on I lost a little patience with it, perhaps because I kept waiting for it to become a 'crime novel' in the sense that I understand the term. From a certain angle I suppose it was one, but the crime is more about (view spoiler) ...more
Aug 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is my second Carol Shields book. I first read Stone Diaries and considering its reputation I was expecting a lot. I immediately fell in love with the writing and the characters and the story. But, though the writing and characters continued strong and compelling, I was ultimately disappointed by the story. Still, I wanted to read more Carol Shields and Swann seemed the perfect next book. Again, the writing and the characters were near perfection. The story, which not only has a lovely ...more
Sep 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Another winner by Shields. I was very interested in the format: first chapter in the first person, next three in third person (and a little in the second person, even), last in sort of a mock-screenplay format. The first four chapters each focus on one of the four main characters. The skill with which Shields individualized these four people reminded me of Kingsolver in Poisonwood Bible, even though Shields doesn't write all four people in first person. It's interesting, also, how she left the ...more
Oct 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
"You might say I'm a professional daughter, or at least a serious hobbyist." So says ray of sunshine Sarah Maloney, the feminist writer who "discovers" the poet Mary Swann 15 years after her death. Sarah, along with three others, provide the viewpoints in different sections of this book, all people dedicated to the "primitive" poet Mary Swann, a woman who lived a life of poverty on a hardscrabble farm, wrote poems on scraps of paper and was then murdered by her husband as soon as she found a ...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.

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