This was my first Carol Shields novel – I’ve read a couple of her short stories – and I zipped through it in record time. There’s something about it that feels inherently Canadian; it reminded me of Alice Munro and Margaret Lawrence.
The book is “written” by the protagonist, Daisy, from moments before her birth to moments after her death, but the narrator continually shifts from first to third person. In fact, most of the story is told in the third person, so that the occasional “I” really throws you – and reminds you that the narrator is naturally biased, and theoretically at least, writing from distant memory. In fact, the one unanswered question is “when did Daisy write her life?” – from beginning to end, the story is presented in the past tense, but if we are to believe that this is a memoir written by the protagonist, whose death, funeral, gravesite and epilogue are included, then we have to assume that at some point, memory becomes prediction. But which point? I like to think that her old age and death are imagined by Daisy while she in the depths of her ‘nervous condition’ in her 60s, but of course, it’s all conjecture.
One of the things that I most enjoyed was the complete lack of amazement at the advances taking place in the outside world – there’s very little real history, and certainly no ‘wow, isn’t that incredible’ reflection on things like landing on the moon or Watergate. Daisy is born in 1905 and dies in the 90s, so she essentially lives through the century. She spends her married life in Ottawa, but there’s no Trudeaumania. There isn’t even Beatlemania. It’s real enough to feel real, but isolated enough to be exclusively Daisy’s story.
Definitely a recommendation, especially if you’ve read and enjoyed Munro and/or Lawrence.
Currently on the nightstand:
A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle (so far, it’s reminiscent of Under the Tuscan Sun (the book, not the &^%*# movie))
A Year in Provence was a fun read, and my initial impression of it being in the same subcategory of travellogues as Tuscan Sun was not altered - but I did find it amusing to learn that Mayle is almost universally disliked by his Provencal neighbours.