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on 19 January 2017
This novel won both the Governor General's Literary Award and the Pulitzer Prize, quite a feat in itself, and made possible by Shields's double citizenship in both Canada and USA.

It is an unusual narrative about the life of Daisy Goodwill, that is luminous in its ordinariness. Atwood's introduction sums it up best: "Human life is a mass of statistics only for statisticians: the rest of us live in a world of individuals, and most them are not prominent. Their joys, however, are fully joyful, and their griefs are real. It was the extraordinariness of ordinary people that was Shields's forte."

Daisy is a first-person narrator who refers to herself in the third person, possessing a kind of omniscience that is unusual but nonetheless successfully executed. The reader finds out she is a mistress of reinvention and she makes that the basis of her life story, wilful distorting and embellishing her account, even in its seemingly unspectacular linear sequence from her birth, her childhood, marriage and love (yes in that sequence), motherhood, and eventually death.

But it is only almost midway through her narrative that she makes these illuminating self-reflexive comments which strangely makes visible her sleight of hand: "Maybe now is the time to tell you that Daisy Goodwill has a little trouble with getting things straight; with the truth, that is." And she justifies her embellishments by relating to a more general truth about how we view our past: "Well, a childhood is what anyone wants to remember of it. It leaves behind no fossils, except perhaps in fiction. Which is why you want to take Daisy's representation of events with a grain of salt, a bushel of salt. She is not always reliable when it comes to the details of her life; much of what she has to say is speculative, exaggerated, wildly unlikely."

The momentous events leading up to her birth at the start of the novel is wilfully withheld in her telling, and she forestalls her narrative until she is sure the reader is kept fully under the suspense she has created. Daisy is a crafty autobiographer, and that is half the enjoyment, as the reader joins her in relishing her power over her narrative: "Still, hers is the only account there is, written on air, written with imagination's invisible ink."

Shields has opined in an interview appended at the end of the novel, presumably inspired by Gissing, that "Biography is subject to the warps and gasps of admiration or condemnation, but fiction respects the human trajectory". And by melding the two in her fictional biography of sorts, she has given order to fiction in an unexpected and refreshing way.
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on 22 August 2015
Lovely story and very enjoyable read. Will keep and read it again
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The Stone Diaries - Carol Shields

"Standing in her back kitchen, my mother's thighs, like soft white meat (veal or chicken or fatty pork come to mind) rub together under her cotton drawers - which are wet, she suddenly realizes, soaked through and through. There are double and triple ruffles of fat around her ankles and wrists, and these ridged extremities are slick with perspiration. Her large swollen fingers press into the boards of the kitchen table, and her left hand, her wedding ring buried there in soft flesh, is throbbing with poison."

With an opening like this I thought that once again our book club had come up with a really good book, but unfortunately, after this wonderful description of an obese woman about to give birth, my joy turned to speed reading, often swiftly skipping paragraphs of the birth, childhood, marriages, motherhood, old age and finally death of Daisy Goodwill Flett.

It just seemed to drag and yes, I have to admit that it did have some beautiful descriptive language, but was so verbose that I just lost interest and got irritated.

Not an author I'll be rushing out to read again.
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A beautifully written life story of a Canadian woman, Daisy Goodwill. The first chapter describes her birth in 1905 - the feelings of her parents and the neighbours. We then follow her in chapters that move on at 10-yearly intervals : her childhood, marriage, motherhood, work...
It soon becomes apparent to the reader that Daisy's life is primarily shown in terms of how it relates to those around her. Even the photos of family members exclude Daisy. The chapter on 'work', which consists largely of letters, only includes those written to her, not those she composed. Although we know the events of her life, she remains somewhat unknown to us, her personality vague. As she grows old and finds herself in a nursing home, her daughter Alice contemplates her mother's reduced property:
'all Mrs Barker Flett's possessions accommodated now by the modest dimensions of a little steel drawer. That three storey house in Ottawa has been emptied out....How is it possible, so much shrinkage?'
A consideration of a woman's life, how things that at one time are so important and in which we invest so much time - homes, gardens, jobs - ultimately all fade away. And yet from Daisy's life spring the new generation of family, whose conversation occupies the final paragraph.
A wonderful and enjoyable read, can't recommend it enough.
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Carol Shields wrote something remarkable with this novel. It is an attempt to get in as much of a woman's life as possible, using different approaches in different sections which makes us aware that these are only 'takes' on Daisy's life, and that they are necessarily partial. You are left feeling that you know her very well, but also that something remains unknowable, as in real life. This ambiguity is one of the great things the book pulls off; it also finds the extraordinary in ordinary details of life, so that we see behind the facade of ordinary living. It's as if Shields has a vision into the inner workings of life, and the effect is to build up layer upon layer of meaning in one woman's life as she goes along, with a sense of great beauty emerging, and sadness also, inevitably. She really seems to grapple with the soul and the writing often takes off into a totally inspired realm that can only be the result of a love of language combined with a real concern for her fellow human beings. Her observations are so acute, but always are given with compassion. And it's funny too, anything but leaden or earnest. I love this book and at the end felt very moved by the sad penultimate section chronicling Daisy's decline. I also thought the experimental feel to the structure allowed her to add a chapter of lists and snippets of dialogue at the end which had the effect of letting us down gently, suggesting the kind of posthumous life that everyone has, in the end, because everyone has made a mark in some sense even if their name no longer passes anyone's lips. The sense of stone memorials and stonework in general adds to this point about lasting testimony.
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on 24 January 2000
Carol Shields is one of those writers that you will hate your friends for not telling you about, if you haven't already found her.
She writes about people, with great depth and sympathy. Her characters are ordinary people, with the extraordinary lives that all of us have, at least when viewed from the inside. The novel has a number of devices to pull you into the heads of the characters, which I found very effective, but some might find distracting. Lovely language. I picked up Larry's Party on a whim, and I've been reading my way through all of her books since.
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on 27 July 2000
There are some passages in this novel that really left me choked. Barker's last letter to Daisy, Cuyler's love for Mercy...overall, the best thing about this novel is the simplicity and spareness with the story is told - and such a simple tale, really. We are left to make up our own minds about a lot of things, and whether we are to like the characters or not, which adds to the overall experience of the novel. A wonderful book.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 29 January 2012
This is an amazing book - a kind of hybrid - a fictional autobiography. The pretence is carried through even to the point of a number of photographs being included, supposedly of the characters. What is more, it works. I read it, believed it, accepted it as a biography, and it was only when I looked up Carol Shields on Wikipedia, that I found it to be fiction. It tells the life stories of a number of fictional characters (though calling them this goes against the grain) I can't help feeling that they really did exist somewhere, or if they didn't they ought to. This book is the only one to win both a Pulitzer Prize and the The Governor General's Fiction Award (Canada), and it was also nominated for the 1993 Booker.

It begins with the birth in 1905 of Daisy Goodwill, an event which coincided with her mother's death. Daisy was raised by a neighbour, Clarentine Flett, who deserted her husband and took Daisy to live in the city with her eldest son Barker Flett, whom Daisy later married. You will need to consult the family tree at the beginning of the book to place other relatives in their context. Before this second marriage, Daisy has a very short wedding and honeymoon, cut short by a terrible accident. Later in her life, Daisy is introduced to her father, Cuyler Goodwill, and Daisy is, eventually, the mother of three children and this generation brings with it twelve grandchildren. The book thrums with life, starting with Cuyler's monumental memorial for his wife and his later marriage and ending with the death of Daisy, "...not at peace..." to the end.

Carol Shields' writing is an entrancing mixture of the sensual and the imaginative - although there are moments of prosaic dullness, as, for instance, when letters to the gardening column of a small town newspaper are reproduced, or Chapter 10, when we get various lists, including all the addresses at which Daisy has lived. There are also some extravagances of language (e.g.p40, final para.) This is an impressive book, but despite its sometimes awkward elaborations and emphases, it is also a strangely humble book. A biography of someone who never lived, except within these pages where she and all her family vibrantly shine.
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on 15 November 2001
... by my all-time favourite author. Carol Shields has a delicious way with words; her phrases are lush and the cadence of her writing is impecable. She, like Alice Munro, has a marvelous openness to everyday details, and she is able to highlight the smallest object or action and give it enormous meaning.
As a Canadian myself, I recognize the landscape (social and otherwise) painted here perhaps better than someone 'from away' might, but the book as a whole is a wonderful access point to understanding the inner workings of our culture. Daisy could, at times, be me; at other times she is my mother; and at others, my grandmother. She is also any number of other women that I know...
Reading clubs can have enormous fun playing with Shields' various modes of writing (try writing your own or your mother's story in one or more of these modes!). I would also recommend reading Shields' Larry's Party as a companion novel, as the two work complement each other spectacularly. As well, anyone who can should try to read Shields' several volumes of poetry, which are older and hard to find, but still well worth the effort.
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If one were to rate this book for its imaginative usages of stone-based imagery, metaphors, similes, and geography, this book would be clearly a five-star effort. If a reader is looking for an imaginative variety of writing styles all in one book, this is also a five-star effort, using wonderfully easy phrases. On the other hand, if you want to feel deeply connected to a story and its characters, this may not the book for you.
The book's format is a pseudo-biography of a Canadian woman told through a series of vignettes about her life. These start with her birth in 1905, continue with her childhood in 1916, describe her first marriage in 1927, falling in love at 31 in 1936, raising her children in 1947, pursuing a career as a gardening columnist from 1955-1964, experiencing a set-back in 1965, living into retirement in 1977, having health reversals in 1985, and eventually passing on. The book comes equipped with a family tree and family photographs to complete the biographical feel.
You can think of this book also like a series of short stories. In fact, many will enjoy the book more that way than as a fictionalized biography. For example, the birth is very compelling. The section about her writing career is quite amusing and fun to read as you follow through a series of letters.
As much as I loved the stone references, to me they turned the book into self-satire so much at times that it created too much emotional distance from the book. If the references had been cut back by about 60 percent, I think they would have been brilliant. As it was, I was looking for one such reference on every page (almost like Where's Waldo?) and would break out into giggles when I found the next one even if the material was supposed to be sad.
Toward the book's end, the references abated but the story still didn't move me. Perhaps it was just that the writer's craft was so well done that its sparkling jewels outshone the content of the story by too wide a margin. There was a similar gap between the story (often far-fetched well beyond kidding around) and the characters, with the story being more interesting than the characters. Even though you often get internal dialogue, the book remains like something that you are watching from a disinterested distance rather than living within and feeling connected to.
My great grandmother, Edith Foster, was a lot like Daisy, and also was born in rural, central Canada. She lived until I was about 19, and I well remember her stories about life on the plains of Canada and immigrating to the United States. The Stone Diaries, even with its exaggerated elements, seemed pale compared to the real challenges of those days . . . which this book often omits.
The best part of Daisy's development as a character is the evolution of her confusion of fact and fantasy. At several points, you will feel like you can no longer trust your own mind and have a good sense of what that situation must be like. Nicely done!
After you enjoy the aspects of The Stone Diaries that appeal to you, I suggest that you assemble a brief autobiography that you can share with your children and grandchildren. They will probably enjoy the kinds of details this book focuses on, because they will reflect on their own origins in compelling ways.
See the past and present clearly!
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