on 25 June 2009
"who ever loved that love not at first sight?"
Carol Shields makes both her two protagonists very human, we become really interested in their (very ordinary) lives - she convinces us ordinary lives are to be wondered at - and the love at first sight reads very naturally when it arises.
We normally expect there to be some reason why people get together. At least once upon a time 19th century novelists reflected on this. Carol Shields doesn't. The pleasure is in recognising emotion, not for example deep character analysis.
Do we believe in love at first sight? I've recently read a book by Sharon Moalem that claims that scent has a powerful and immediate role in the selection of mates; and in the distant past recollect reading suggestions in the writings of Robin Skynner that the selection of partners in stranger groups seems to reflect deep unconscious but highly effective non-verbal signalling. So who knows?
Either way, this novel makes for a quite unequivocally enjoyable reading experience.
on 28 May 2007
Brilliantly written, amazingly insightful, sumptous prose that describes the little things so well. And somehow it remains very readable (much easier that the Stone Diaries - which I gave up upon). The story line is slow to start, but in retrospect, this is one the novel's achievements and it actually gives a suspense to the latter half.
And yes, it's a love story, but not a cheesy one (despite the book's title), but one that is grounded in reality which gives real power to the words.
If you havent read Carol Shields before, this is a great place to start.
on 25 March 2012
Republics do not have kings or queens, nor princes or princesses, so, we must assume, fairytales are out. Winnipeg is not exactly a republic, and, at least in terms of their love lives, two residents of the city, Fay and Tom, seem to inhabit a world where fairytales are inconceivable. But that place might not be Winnipeg: it might be closer in to themselves.
Despite - or perhaps because of - having had a multitude of mothers, Tom has been married three times, each attempt turning success into apparent and mildly painful failure, with or sometimes without associated acrimony. For her part, Fay, at thirty-five, has had several relationships of varied length, but none has led to wedding bells, a fact that seems to trouble her, sometimes.
Tom is a radio presenter. He hosts one of those late night phone-ins aimed at insomniacs, but usually attracting the opinionated. His mood, his history, his takes on where life has taken him clearly influence his style. Rises or dips in his personal life are immediately apparent, communicated without trying. But do not assume that anything offers even influence to what the contributors say. Rest assured, they will offer precisely what they want, perhaps precisely what they have been fed, if only because they are all as self-absorbed as everyone else.
Fay works more regular hours. She is an ethnologist and works in a folklore centre. She is heavily into mermaids, and perhaps they are also into her. She researches the mermaid myth, catalogues sightings, interviews people who have seem them, travels the world giving papers on our social and psychological need to invent these creatures. Mermaids, though overtly sexual and obviously female, are eventually sexless, unless they have exaggerated tails. They are both alluring and inviting, but, being half fish, they are cold-blooded and cold. They tempt, but cannot satisfy.
Obviously Tom and Fay are going to meet. They, along with their accumulated baggage, join forces and, as a consequence, begin to see life differently. But each is still influenced by relatives, acquaintances, ex-partners, ex-in-laws, new partners, parents and anyone else who might have an opinion. They all count. They all influence, especially when stiffness of apparent resolve can be easily bent by contradiction, shock or surprise. And so Fay and Tom's relationship develops to what Carol Shields deems it should become. Throughout The Republic Of Love is beautifully written. Carol Shields's prose is often witty, elegant, telling, funny, incisive or provocative all in one. A single sentence can turn on itself to frighten or mock its own beginning.
This is a book worth reading for its style alone. But it offers more than elegance of expression. These characters have all the confused confident complexity, the undirected and variable resolve we would expect from non-ideological adults in the last decade of the twentieth century. It would be interesting to revisit them twenty years on to see where they are now, to know if anything might have lasted. In The Republic Of Love they certainly come to life.
Carol Shields' The Republic of Love is a beautifully written examination of that most desired, ecstatic, disappointing, confusing, inexplicable, wonderful, bizarre and devastating experience - romantic love.
Tom Avery is a 40 year old man who has recently failed at his third marriage. He is a successful night-time DJ on a Winnipeg Radio Station whose audience is often the lovelorn, the lonely, and he smooths the night with chat and music, whilst `in real' his life is rather falling apart. He still yearns to meet `the one'
Fay McLeod is 35, and is about to end her relationship with a man she no longer loves, with whom she has been living for 3 years. She has never married, but has a history of relationships with perfectly credible partners, but she can't quite commit. She yearns to meet `the one'. She is a folklorist in Winnipeg; her speciality is mermaids - mythical creatures who lured the unwary to their deaths by drowning through their seductive siren songs, sending the listener mad. A fairly potent love metaphor.
We know, as we follow Tom and Fay in alternate chapters, for almost half the book, that at some point they are going to meet and we expect the trajectory of a romance.
However, forget moons, Junes, clichés, as there are many ways in which this most enduring of fiction subject matter `the love story' may play out. Particularly when the essence of love is written about by such a warm, tenderly but objectively clear and unsentimental writer as Shields. A writer who can slyly, wryly, - and let's face it, even truthfully say the following, as expressed by one of her two central characters:
`....love is not, anywhere, taken seriously. It's not respected. It's the one thing in the world everyone wants.....but for some reason people are obliged to pretend that love is trifling and foolish.
Work is important. Living arrangements are important......Even minor shifts of faith or political intention are given a weight that is not accorded love. We turn our heads and pretend it's not there, the thunderous passions that enter a life and alter its course. Love belongs in an amateur operetta, on the inside of a jokey greeting card.......It's possible to speak ironically about romance, but no adult with any sense talks about love's richness and transcendence, that it actually happens, that it's happening right now, in the last years of our long, hard, lean, bitter and promiscuous century'
In this book (originally published in 1997) Shield's other central motif is the interconnectedness of each to other, particularly in a moderately small city - so though Tom and Fay have actually been living in the same area of the city for some years, they have never met. On a `Six Degrees of Separation' map they have several possible routes of finally meeting - Shields draws out tangled, myriad points of connection between different groups and subgroups of people in the city. So Winnipeg itself is a major player in her story
This was so well crafted; her characters (all) individual, rounded, real. It's absolutely obvious what the plot is, that is predictable - satisfyingly so, but it is the precision of the journey, Shields' warmth, humour and accuracy, her ordinary but unique characters, and her careful examination of the day to day mystery of love itself, made this a hugely enjoyable read.
And, ...to the title - Kingdoms imply rank and status, Republics (in theory) RepResent the Will of The People. The Republic is in theory something freely chosen and willed by the majority. However, as we know, Republics may be forced upon the populace, the power may not be vested in the people. Republics may come into being through force and violence, and the people have been unwillingly subdued and subjugated. Shields has given us a title which contains many meanings and layers, some of them contradictory, with meanings both overt and covert
I was delighted to be offered this as an ARC by Open Road Media, who continue to produce excellent ebook versions of fine writing originally published within the last 50 years. I generally find myself fully appreciating the chance to re-read gems from recent literature, or discover fine writing which passed me by.
on 7 August 2000
Right. So Fay and Tom are both single. They both have a string of failed relationships behind them. They meet by chance and fall in love at first sight. Eventually, after yet another string of unforeseeable events, they get married. So far, so good. Whatever the poetic contents of the book, the story is less than original. The fact that the novel still makes for fascinating, compulsive reading is due to Carol Shield`s softly ironic style and her almost motherly understanding of human nature. However, the background of the characters somehow seems more interesting than what actually happens to them - Fay`s thesis on mermaids fascinated me more than her love affair with Tom, whose failed three marriages also carry a lot more content than him tying the knot with Fay. Of course, the different perspectives of love in all its shapes and forms is perfectly valid, especially in our day and age, and Shields brilliantly captures the essence of singledom - freedom, yes, but at what a price. But is marriage really the one and only answer? Where are the people that live perfectly valid lives on their own? (And I`m sure there are some of those out there. Why is it that all the books on modern singledom somehow end with the marriage - or at least relationship - knot?) This is only half the story, I`m sure. However, it is a great one and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
on 12 February 2012
I first read this book many years ago and have reread it many, many tmes since. This book is my good news, feel good fix; that's not to say that it's trivial. The characters have their challenges and despite initial appearances not everything in the garden is rosy.
Carol Shields' books are all about the people and that, for me, is what makes a great read.
I'm on my third copy of this book as when I've lent it to friends they've been loathe to return it - no matter, a book shared is a joy!
Fay is a 35 year old folklorist who studies mermaids. Tom is a 40 year old 3 times divorced radio talk show host. Fay can't commit. Tom commits too easily. When they meet, there is in instant and powerful attraction, but inevitably the course of this love affair is not going to run smoothly. This is a gentle romantic novel about love in all its manifestations, narrated with all of Carol Shields trademark verve, compassion and humour. It's a touching and funny book, full of wit and authentic dialogue, told from shifting viewpoints and with impressively accurate and pin-point observations of how people behave. It's also a novel about work. Fay's research into mermaids is seamlessly integrated into the plot, and is in itself very interesting and informative. Tom's job as a night-time DJ provides much of the humour in the novel, encapsulating neatly the type of people who love to phone into such programmes. All the characters are well-rounded, even the minor ones, and the city of Winnipeg is as much a character in its own right as any of its inhabitants. Perhaps one or two of the plot twists are less than convincing, but the reader is so caught up in Fay and Tom's relationship that it really doesn't matter. A charming and extremely enjoyable novel.
on 25 February 1999
I have read this book about four times and each time it has made me cry. It is a sweet, lyrical, lovely book and I unreservedly recommend it.
on 12 March 2015
One of my favourite books by one of my favourite authors, Carol Shields. Republic of Love displays an amazing insight - often with a wry humour - into male/female relationships and just how different they are. Beautiful writing.
on 24 December 2015
Well, for being 'new' it was pretty yellowed, but it did get here on time, and was otherwise unsullied. And it IS a great book!