A Novel

Book - 2002
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"Unless you're lucky, unless you're healthy, fertile, unless you're loved and fed, unless you're offered what others are offered, you go down in the darkness, down to despair." Reta Winters has many reasons to be happy: Her three almost grown daughters. Her twenty-year relationship with their father. Her work translating the larger-than-life French intellectual and feminist Danielle Westerman. Her modest success with a novel of her own, and the clamour of her American publisher for a sequel. Then in the spring of her forty-fourth year, all the quiet satisfactions of her well-lived life disappear in a moment: her eldest daughter Norah suddenly runs from the family and ends up mute and begging on a Toronto street corner, with a hand-lettered sign reading GOODNESS around her neck. GOODNESS. With the inconceivable loss of her daughter like a lump in her throat, Reta tackles the mystery of this message. What in this world has broken Norah, and what could bring her back to the provisional safety of home? Reta's wit is the weapon she most often brandishes as she kicks against the pricks that have brought her daughter down: Carol Shields brings us Reta's voice in all its poignancy, outrage and droll humour. Piercing and sad, astute and evocative, full of tenderness and laughter, Unless will stand with The Stone Diaries in the canon of Carol Shields's fiction.
Publisher: [Toronto] : Random House Canada, 2002
ISBN: 9780679311799
Branch Call Number: FIC Shiel 3567
Characteristics: 321 p


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WVMLStaffPicks Dec 23, 2014

A feminist writer, living her well-off life with a physician husband and three lovely daughters, comes up against tragedy. Inexplicably, her eldest daughter opts out of university, her relationship and her family to sit on a street corner in downtown Toronto with a sign around her neck that reads GOODNESS. This is a profound, appealing and witty story, not anguished and depressing as the plot might suggest. The fast-paced narrative is interspersed with letters, never mailed, that rail against the marginalized status of women in the world. I say this is her best novel yet.

Oct 23, 2014

I always feel a twinge of regret when I rate such a well written book so low. That may actually say something bad about the quality of the books I typically read and enjoy?

With a book written such as this one I think it would be necessary to have empathy or something in common with the main character and I felt I had neither. A story about a mother and wife, about her thoughts on life and her husband and her grown daughters, who writes and translates and is a good doctor's wife, gave me nothing to appreciate. I just did not understand her life or her thoughts or her worries. Leaving me unappreciative of the story and bored with the book in general.

Sep 12, 2014

Home library

Mar 11, 2014

This is a novel I picked up to "read more female Canadian authors".

Although I finished this years ago, I think of it still, like no other book.

NORAH ROBB Jan 16, 2013

I had read many of Carol Shields' novels before reading "Unless". But was totally unprepared for how this particular novel resonated with me. Perhaps it was in part because I knew it was her last novel, perhaps because I have a young daughter, perhaps because my name is Norah. I have since reread it a number of times and will no doubt do so again. The very first paragraph captivated me, moved me to tears, as it does each time I read it. I was almost desperate to keep reading but unable to move beyond that first paragraph before I felt I completely understood the depth of the character's situation.

BugLady1 Sep 13, 2011

Difficult at first to get into. But once I got started, I wanted to know more and more. Clever, quirky characters intertwined together yet seperate. Ending was somewhat of a letdown, as I wanted to know more about the daughter, but liked the surprises of how other aspects tied together. Overall a good read.

Feb 10, 2011

Not the easiest book to read but definitely worth the effort. I connected so strongly with the characters, and the story evoked in me an overwhelming sense of loss. Amazing writing!

mayfairlady Feb 09, 2011

in the last three for Canada Reads 2011.
The writing is wonderful.

abird Oct 18, 2010

This book has made the Top 40 list of the 2011 CBC Canada Reads pick!

Mar 04, 2007

Not sure if I really got all of the levels of this book, although I definitely enjoyed reading it. Male characters were almost absent. As a parent some aspects were very disturbing. I have enjoyed other Carol Shields books more.

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