Friday, January 25, 2008

The Stone Diaries - Carol Shields

The Good: This book follows the life of Daisy Goodwill, from her miraculous birth to her quiet death. The events in between define her life and show her living according to the desires of others.

I was particularly taken with the form. Despite following the traditional linear structure, Shields divides the book into sections of Daisy's life like "Birth" and "Marriage". It was interesting to see her grow from a young child into an old woman, with each section concentrating on the theme of the chapter title and how past events affected her present.

Part of Shield's genius is how she makes you care about Daisy, a seemingly ordinary character with not much of a personality. But things happen to and around Daisy that make you take a second look. The story of an unrealized life is always somewhat heartbreaking and Shields manages to communicate this as a quiet dignified tragedy.

I had two favourite sections, one being "Work" where the story is communicated in letters. It's very difficult to maintain plot and reader interest with a letters in a novel but Shields is a master craftswoman. I also really enjoyed the period where Daisy was in her writing phase for the paper.

Shields also manages to populate the world with a plethora of interesting minor characters. They don't just hold up scenery, they have their own stories to tell. One thing to watch for is the family tree and the photographs. It's interesting how much trouble Shields goes to to convince the reader this is a true story.

The Bad: My main problem was with Daisy as character. Despite the fact she was the main character, we don't see the book entirely from her perspective. The story itself is very ordinary as is Daisy. While Shields makes us care about her, the most interesting things in Daisy's life are what happens to others around her.

This book was typically "Canadian" about 'small lives lived in the small'. I don't always mind this but it can be detrimental to Canadian novels as it reinforces stereotypes about Canada and authors seem to find it difficult to break out of this mold. (I can't tell you how many stories I've read set in Canada that take place in a small town where nothing much every happens). At times I thought Daisy's life was so tedious I would have to walk away for a while before picking up the book again.

The Ugly: Shields plays around with point of view which can be highly confusing if you're not paying attention. While it was nice to jump into other character's heads, I found it distracting and felt it detracted from the plot.

I won't lie to you, this is a difficult book to read because it doesn't contain a driving plot. But it's lyrical and intimate and if you're looking for a challenge then I definitely recommend it.

This book was part of my By the Decades Challenge.

Rating: 4/5

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