Something really strange happened to me yesterday. In her comment to my blog post Virginia Woolf’s Nose, flowerville mentioned Carol Shields novel Unless – as a book that might interest me in relation to my own writing.

How could she possible know?! (Here I am, writing away in a foreign language, speaking about thoughts that I find hard to lay out in an understandable way (even for myself), and despite of all these complications, there is someone out there who manages to follow my muddled thoughts – and even give me good advise -. For a second I felt almost blessed)

Unless is a great novel, and it is definitively a book I will use in my project to come.  Unless is/was Shields last novel, and it is said to be her most feministic work. I strongly recommend it; it’s also a work to start with if you haven’t read any Shields before. (Those of you who are familiar with Carol Shields might recognize this post’s title)

As it happens – in this world of strange coincidences – I just got hold of Eleanor Wachtel’s book Random Illuminations. Conversations with Carol Shields. I even brought the book with me to ‘the house by the sea’, were I’m now spending some tranquil days all by myself.

flowerville’s comment made me read the last chapter of Wachtel’s book, its called “Ideas of Goodness”, and it is about Unless, about what we understand with the word goodness, and it’s also, as all of the chapters in Wachtel’s book – about writing.

Listen to what Carol Shields has to say:

I never know where my novels are going when I sit down and begin them (…) I think the direction of the novel comes out of the process of writing (…)

On the other hand, there is a way in which every novel is about finding this place we call home. I think all of Jane Austen’s novels, for example, are about that: the place where you really belong, the place you’ve been assigned to but somehow haven’t got to. The idea of lost children, adults as lost children, dealing with a script that they hadn’t expected to deal with – that’s what novels are about. I don’t think they are about spectacular good luck or bad luck. I think they’re about what happens to us every day. Ordinary everyday life is hard enough, God knows, and presents difficulties for us. Novels are about difficulty.

This statement certainly gave me a lot to think about …

4 Comments Add yours

  1. * says:

    I didn’t know how i knew it, it was just because you mentioned the ordinary life problem. and i thought “unless” is really good about this… i do need to get that wachtel book. and i have shield’s collected stories here, will take them with me on vacation…. good luck with your project to come… and now i will have to get organized and write something about “unless” as well….

    1. Sigrun says:

      good! wish you happy holidays!

  2. litlove says:

    I am a big fan of Carol Shields, all of whose novels I think I have read, well with the exception of The Republic of Love which for some reason I couldn’t finish (note to self: try it again). I love the leanness of her style and the psychological insight she brings to her characterisation.

  3. Bellezza says:

    The only work I have read of Carol Shields is The Stone Diaries, but you have inspired me to pick up more. I’m so glad that another blogger was able to ‘bless’ you with her words. It’s so wonderful to have encouragement from one another, which is one of the best things about blogging in my opinion.

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