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3.63  ·  Rating details ·  11,115 Ratings  ·  925 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
ebook, 352 pages
Published March 17th 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published 2002)
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Glenn Sumi
Jul 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
UPDATE May 2016: Just found out this is going to be a movie, starring Catherine Keener as Reta! It will probably play the Toronto Film Festival in the fall. Looking forward to it!

In Carol Shields’s Unless, Reta Winters, a happy, middle-aged novelist and translator, a wife and mother of three children, discovers that her 19-year-old daughter has dropped out of university and is panhandling on the streets of Toronto holding a sign that reads “Goodness.”

That one-sentence synopsis, while accurat
This is another of the books that was shortlisted for the Booker prize in 2002, which is the year chosen for the latest historic shortlist project in The Mookse and The Gripes group.

This is a quiet but rather impressive book. On the surface not much happens. The narrator Reta Winters is a writer and translator, happily married with three daughters. The book follows her as she comes to terms with the strange behaviour of her eldest daughter, who has dropped out of university and now begs at a str
Paul Bryant
Jul 06, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
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
Jul 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Compulsively readable, the main character comes from a very proud lineage of other literary protagonists who get totally fucked over by their offspring. Although it doesn't come close to the pathos & articulation thereof of, say, Lionel Shriver's "We Need to Talk About Kevin", nor the titan-in-decay tableau that is Philip Roth's "American Pastoral"--"Unless" is way more playful and more accessible. It is the same old story, though. &, unless anything happens to me, I will definitely get ...more
Ron Charles
Dec 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 11, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  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
Jan 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 the book gathered dust on my nightstand as I was a little busy and preoccupied with wedding planning. So I packed it and took it with me on my honeymoon. 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
May 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  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.
Alice Poon
May 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

A perfectly normal, healthy and congenial nineteen-year-old young woman who grew up in a closely-knit and nurturing well-to-do family suddenly quits university, her family and her boyfriend to panhandle in a street corner of downtown Toronto.

The novel is the youngster’s mother’s account of her experiences in dealing with the shocking loss of her lovely eldest daughter. She makes a desperate attempt to come up with possible reasons for her derelict daughter’s inconceivable action. Being a transla
Jan 02, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 08, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
"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
Nov 16, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Book Concierge
Digital audiobook narrated by Joan Allen

Reta Williams is a successful author and translator, a wife, and a mother to three teenage daughters. Her oldest daughter, Norah, is a 19-year-old freshman at university, when Reta and her doctor husband, Tom, discover that Norah has apparently dropped out, and spends her days sitting on a Toronto street corner, with a signed around her neck that reads simply “Goodness.” The mystery of how and why her daughter has come to panhandling in this way is the maj
Fatema Hassan , bahrain

إلا إذا
للروائية الكندية كارول شيلدز

رواية غريبة، قد لا تحبها، قد لا تفهمها، لكن العروج إليها يتطلب نوعية اهتمام معينة، لأنها تعبر عن فئة عمرية محددة -المرأة الأربعينية- تمارس مهنة صارمة لا تقبل ان تندرج ك الخطة ب في الحياة - الكتابة - ف لك أن تتخيل كم الصعوبة التي ستواجهها لسبر الرواية، شعرت بأني أقرأ سيرة ذاتية في البداية واستغربت تصنيفها كرواية ! لكني استرسلت في القراءة مستسلمة ومفتونة بتفاصيل حياة الروائية، شعور لذيذ يشبه شعور السطو والتلصص على خزانة امرأة لمعرفة أسرار تفوقها و أسباب قوتها، ول
K.D. Absolutely
Aug 15, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Oct 08, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2017, canada
"Unless is the worry word of the English language. It flies like a moth around the ear, you hardly hear it, and yet everything depends on its breathy presence. (...) Unless provides you with a trapdoor, a tunnel into light, the reverse side of not enough. Unless keeps you from drowning in the presiding arrangements."

Reta (not Rita - Shields obviously read Derrida) Winters is 44, works as a translator and writer, is married to a doctor, has three daughters and a golden retriever named Pet, and li
Aug 20, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.

Apr 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Tiffany by: Anne
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,
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
Apr 03, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: didn-t-finish
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
Aug 14, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The novel I wish I'd written.

So many times in the book I thought "YES!" and "Well put!" and "Why can't I articulate like Carol Shields!? This is exactly how I feel!"

I loved this book, which I ignored for many years for some reason. No idea why, as I loved The Stone Diaries. While this one is different, it is equally as beautiful, and even more intellectual and precise. This is a book I'll save for my daughter, and one that I wish my husband could read, but I doubt he'd get it, which is, of cour
Jul 28, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Saleh MoonWalker
I found the book very difficult to engage with, as I felt the author was juggling too many themes and that she had not a clear strategy for combining these themes in order to make the book a complete entity. The characterization was very sketchy, apart from Reta, and therefore it was difficult to empathize with the family. The peripheral characters were so lightly drawn, even Norah, that the complexities of the situation were simplified. The constant 'navel gazing' of Reta was at best distractin ...more
Mar 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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

لكن ليست السعادة كما نتصورها ، فالسعادة هي ذلك اللوح الزجاجي الذي تحمله في رأسك ويستنفذ كل براعتك كي تظل متمسكاً به ، وحين يتحطم يتوجب عليك الانتقال إلي نوع آخر من الحياة ..
ولكننا لا نعرف كيف نطلب ما لا نعرف حتي أننا نريده

القراءة الأولي لـ كارول شيلدز ..
و .. لقد انتهت الرواية معي دون تقييم .. !

هناك شئ مُحير في هذه الرواية .. شئ يجعلك - ربما - تستمر في القراءة للنهاية علي أمل أن تجد ما يجعلك شغوفاً بها ..
لا أنكر أن هناك اقتباسات من نوعية السهل الممتنع .. شئ يطرق باب الفكر ويطل برأسه من بين الصفح
Mary Novaria
Jan 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Oct 19, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Merve Özcan
Dec 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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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...
“This is why I read novels: so I can escape my own unrelenting monologue.” 84 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.” 24 likes
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