Rebecca's Reviews > The Republic of Love

The Republic of Love by Carol Shields
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Not one of my favorites from Shields, but still enjoyable and reminiscent of Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist. Her chapters alternate between the perspectives of radio disc jockey Tom Avery and folklorist/mermaid researcher Fay McLeod, two Winnipeg lonely hearts who each have their share of broken relationships behind them – including three divorces for Tom and a string of long-term live-in boyfriends for Fay. It’s clear they’re going to meet and fall in love (almost exactly halfway through), but Shields is careful to interrogate myths of love at first sight and happily ever after. As a colleague asks Fay, “wasn’t it you who told me that it was impossible to speak of love in the twentieth century except ironically?”

I especially liked the surprising interconnectedness of everyone in Winnipeg, the subplot about Fay’s parents’ marriage, and the habit of recording minor characters’ monologues (friends, family, radio listeners, colleagues, whoever) word for word without Fay or Tom’s words in edgewise. My major points of criticism would be that Tom sometimes feels like a caricature – the male/female dynamic is not quite as successful here as in Happenstance, which also divides the perspective half and half male/female – and that I wasn’t entirely sure what all the mermaid material was meant to achieve. However, as usual, Shields impresses me with her understanding of relationships and her broad compassion for the human lot, as in the quotes below:

Tom: “He looked hard in the bathroom mirror and said to himself: All I have is this self. Not another thing. Just this irreducible droning self.”

Tom’s colleague: “People wake up feeling ugly and lonely and weak and they’d just as soon hide out at home, right? But all they have to do is reconnect. Get their hearts restarted. It’s hard work being a person, you have to do it every single day.”

“The problem with stories of romance is that lovers are always shown in isolation: two individuals made suddenly mythic by the size of their ardor, an ardor that is declared to be secretive or else incomprehensible to the rest of the wide buzzing world. And the moment love is seized upon and named, the lovers are magically released from a need for dentists, for tax advisers, for shoe salesmen, for anyone who stands outside their immediate sphere of passion.”
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Quotes Rebecca Liked

Carol Shields
“Open a book this minute and start reading. Don’t move until you’ve reached page fifty. Until you’ve buried your thoughts in print. Cover yourself with words. Wash yourself away. Dissolve.”
Carol Shields, The Republic of Love


Reading Progress

July 25, 2011 – Shelved
July 6, 2016 – Started Reading
July 6, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
July 16, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by Rae (new)

Rae Meadows I loved Unless but it has been a long time since I've read Shields. Nice review. I like how she writes (and sees the world) so I may get this one going. Thanks, Rebecca!


Rebecca That's one of the only ones of her books I haven't read. I guess I'm saving it up! The Stone Diaries is my favorite of her novels so far, and I also love her collected short stories.


message 3: by Jim (new)

Jim Puskas Your thoughtful review of The Republic of Love made me suddenly a bit ashamed that as a Canadian I've never yet worked my way through one of Carol Shields' books; essentially lost patience with her careful, nuanced style. The fault lies with me. We in this country get "Canlit" pushed at us and one's instinct is often to push back. And to be honest several of the most celebrated Canlit writers are frankly tiresome. I shall put Shields back on my "to read" list.


Rebecca I only discovered her by chance in 2006 when a colleague handed me two of her books. Since then I've read most of her work. It was funny because the previous year in graduate school I'd met someone who was doing a thesis on Canadian female writers, a topic that baffled me because I literally couldn't name one besides Margaret Atwood!


message 5: by Katie (new)

Katie I've never read Shields and don't think I'll be reading this one but thanks for bringing her to my attention, Rebecca. I was going to ask what's your favourite but I see in the comments you've nominated The Stone Diaries so I'll give that a go. Thanks for the eloquent and informative review.


Rebecca Cheers, Katie!


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