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Reflections of a working writer and reader



The Republic of Love by Carol Shields

In this 1992 novel Carol Shields sets up two separate people, living in the same Canadian town, Winnipeg, and, although we know that they’re going to meet and get together, we don’t know how.

Fay Mcleod is thirty-five and is writing a book about mermaids, she has never fully committed to a man before . Tom Avery has had twenty-seven mothers and three wives and he works on the radio late at night, taking calls and playing sentimental songs.

They don’t meet until half-way through the novel. In the meantime we see them as they are, warts and all. Shields doesn’t romanticize them. She shows us their positive and negative sides, their strengths and vulnerabilities, their friends and family, their past attachments and failures and their future dreams.

The novel is funny in parts, when Tom tells Fay that he has been married three times, she can’t stop thinking about it. ‘Three,’ she says. She wants to know how long each marriage lasted. Tom tells her, then he says:

‘You look – stricken. Christ, I don’t blame you.’

‘Two would be almost easy, but three -.’

‘I know. I know. What can I do?’

‘Just let me sit here and grieve for a minute.’

‘I’m forty years old,’ Tom said, and reached for her hand. ‘You must have known I’d have some history.’

Just after the mid-point of The Republic of Love Tom and Fay meet and fall in love and get happy and then the narrative becomes boring and a little tedious. This is because in real life when people fall in love and get happy they need to be together with as few interruptions as possible, so nature makes them boring to keep other people away.

At this point Shields’ brings the book back from the edge by introducing something unthinkable.

Carol Shields is always aware of love’s crippling inability to look at itself. Still, during this section of the book you begin to realize why fairy stories always end when the couple fall in love and get married. They end there because it is really difficult to deliver a storyline with people who are just soppy about each other, people who lose sight of the world.

The Republic of Love is an early book in Shields’ writing life and is not typical of her output, though there are sections of prose which make you stand back on your heels. As a complete novel it doesn’t hold up for me, but nevertheless there is a lot to admire about it and it contains much for the fledgling writer to ponder.

14 Responses to “The Republic of Love by Carol Shields”

  1. Peggy Payne says:

    I liked this book–it was partly the mermaid research, I know. (I want to read that book.) I’ve liked everything Carol Shields has ever written. But for me, and a lot of other people, it seems, Stone Diaries is her masterpiece. I’ll never forget the opening pages and the Malvern pudding.

    JB says: Hi Peggy. Yes, the Malvern Pudding was wonderful. I also liked Happenstance by the same author.

  2. Peggy Payne says:

    I don’t think I’ve read Happenstance– I’ll check it out.

    jb says: You’d remember. It’s two novels in one. When you’ve finished the first novel you turn the book over and begin reading the next one.

  3. stefanie says:

    this may seem like a strange question but if anyone knows the answer to this, it would be greatly appreciated. do you know the instrument, Tom mentions to Fay, that she tries to remember??? I’ve lent the book out and it is driving me crazy.

  4. cannedguds says:

    I haven’t read this book yet but it sounds very interesting and a little note, by the way, there are many possible things that can happen when it comes to love and no matter what kind of story you write as long as there is a little dash of love, falling in love or out of love, it might have already happened, it might be happening right now or it is possible that it can happen to somebody in the future. anyway, thanks for posting this.

  5. Marge Olson says:

    I love this novel. When I was a student at the U of Manitoba eons ago, I lived in the Practice House for one month. The baby was Chinese, and spent two years living there. As an immigrant to Canada, I thought that Shields got `Canadian-ness’ quite right.

    jb says: I’ve read many of her novels, Marge, and I think she was good at getting human-ness quite right a lot of the time.

  6. Oooh , I saw this book in Oprah , she was recommending this. I’m still waiting for this one to appear in the shelves of my local bookstore though.

    There are times that I want to read realistic books like this one. I think that it’s more easier to identify with characters like these because of their flaws and imperfections.

  7. THAI IELTS says:

    I love her writing, I’ve read many of her novels and passed her novel to many friends. they all fall in love with hers. 🙂

  8. הכרויות says:

    I’m not sure if that’s 100% reliable

  9. John Uy says:

    I absolutely loved this novel, myself. Although I may bit a bit biased as I am a Winnipegger 🙂

    jb says: No, it was a good book, John.

  10. Marina says:

    I have always admired this novel, I especially liked a few funny scenes, including when Tom tells Fay that he has been married three times

    jb says: Shields was a good humorist.

  11. GMAT says:

    Was introduced to Shields only recently by a good friend of mine. wow – she’s good. there’s a strong ‘human’ element within the pages that reasonates with me.

  12. louis says:

    I absolutely loved this novel, myself. Although I may bit a bit biased as I am a Winnipegger

  13. louis says:

    I love her writing, I’ve read many of her novels and passed her novel to many friends. they all fall in love with hers

  14. Max says:

    Wow that is quite a twist, but I think it is quite predictable if the author use the common or the usual love story that we know and this makes her book more interesting to read.