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Unless
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1001 book reviews > Unless - Carol Shields

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Kristel (kristelh) | 4108 comments Mod
Unless by Carol Shields. Is a book about listening to the silence. Reta is a writer, a mother, a friend, and a partner to Tom. The story of Reta revolves around her oldest daughter, Norah, disappearance and migration to a street corner in Toronto as a homeless, mute person. Why is Norah silent? Why is Lois silent? Why is Danielle silent?
The book is set in the 2000 but covers a wide time range for woman and feminism. The sixties, seventies are the time periods when Reta was young and growing up. She is translating for an author who is a feminist prior to the sixties. The daughters are of next generation of females. The plot is perhaps a bit choppy but it is reveal by and through Reta’s thoughts, her writings and conversations that Reta has with others. This would be choppy and not linear. The reader knows right away that there is tragedy, that one daughter is missing. Then the reader finds out that after twenty some years, Reta and Tom are not married but Reta changed her name to Winter and she used to be a Summer. I think the book is purposely choppy as it is reflecting the anguish of Reta over her daughter Norah. Her inner life is revolving around the duaghter’s disappearance and ending up on a street corner with a sign that says GOODNESS. I think when life hands a person something like this, the thought life takes over. I think Reta is at first blaming self and probably always will blames self because early on she said she wished she would have “listened” when Norah came home and was trying to talk with her mother. A lot of this book is about “listening”. The epilogue by Eliot talks about hearing grass grow, squirrel hearts beat and the roar on the other side of silence. Reta silent when Gwen takes the scarf that she bought for Norah (do we let others steal from us what we need to give to our children), the silence of Danielle about her early childhood (Reta never asks), the fact that the new editor never listens to Reta and is always cutting her off. So I think the book is about writing, relationships, feminism’s but it is most about silence. The silence of writing (that quiet activity filled with so much noise), the silence of relationships (holding hands walking, sitting beside), the silence of unsent letters, the silence of women being constantly omitted or talked over. Love Shield’s writing.

The characters were interesting, some are fleshed out well, others are slowly fleshed out and in Shields’ writing about Reta writing about Alicia and Roman we gain insight into how a author goes about developing their characters and how Shields herself develops her characters. I attended a meet the author event at my local library and the author talked about character development, and it fit so well with what was written here.

Achievement; while this book was good. It was nominated and made finalists but did not win any significant awards. The author is the winner of the Pulitzer. The style of this book was stream of conscious, epistolary, conversations with others but mostly through Reta’s inner thoughts and her point of view. I enjoyed the style. I found the book to be readable. It wasn’t slow and it wasn’t agony to pick it up yet it was like listening to grass grow. Wonderful if you stop to enjoy the process.


Chinook | 282 comments 5 stars

I loved this. I heard about the basic plot back when the book came out - I think I even own a copy back in Canada, in my brother’s basement. But I don’t think it really caught my attention and this was nothing like what I’d expected. I wasn’t too sure at the beginning but it sucked me in and captured my attention completely. Plus, it’s interesting to read about the area I grew up in.


Amanda Dawn | 1091 comments I listened to this one on audiobook recently, right off of reading Shields’ “The Stone Diaries”. I loved the latter so much that the expectations were kind of stack unfairly against this one. It was still good, and I gave it 3 stars, but I just felt like Stone Diaries was more vivid and alive to me. I did like that those books share a common perspective and theme of illuminating the wonder and significance in the lives of ordinary women.


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