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The Custodian of Paradise: A Novel Hardcover – April 17, 2007


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"At the Water's Edge" by Sara Gruen
From the author of "Water for Elephants", this is a gripping and poignant love story about a privileged young woman’s awakening as she experiences the devastation of World War II in a tiny village in the Scottish Highlands. See more
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Sheilagh Fielding—a striking, unconventional, six-foot-three Newfoundland woman with a limp—returns from prolific Johnston's The Colony of Unrequited Dreams for this highly atmospheric sequel. Near the end of WWII, Fielding (as she is known), a notorious St. John's columnist, holes up on the nearby deserted island of Loreburn after her mother dies and leaves her a small inheritance. There, Fielding senses the presence of her mysterious "Provider," who has shadowed her all her life and whom she has never met face-to-face. As Fielding tells her story—abandoned by her mother at six; raised by a father who insinuates she's not his—Fielding's Provider draws closer to her solitary retreat. But Fielding has long kept another secret: she gave birth to twins at the age of 15, who were raised as her half-siblings by her mother in New York City. Johnston's descriptive prose can be exhilarating, from the windswept island to a dingy Manhattan, and he has a sure hand with historical nuggets. There's little tension over the 500-plus pages, and the denouement (her father's identity; her children's fate) is overblown. But Fielding is a fascinating character: she courts her own estrangement as much as she is tormented by it. (Apr.)
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From Booklist

Suspend your disbelief and sit back for a gripping read in the vein of a nineteenth-century romantic novel but featuring a twentieth-century woman. Feisty, iconoclastic, and extremely ironic, Sheilagh Fielding was originally introduced in Johnston's^B award-winning historical novel, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams (1999). There she was featured as the fictitious companion of Joey Smallwood, first premier of Newfoundland. Now, however, she is the star, and her story is a riveting one. The novel opens with Sheilagh, in time and space very close to the end of the novel, trying to find a deserted island to live on. The novel ends with her leaving that island, not many months later. But the time between those two events spans almost 30 years and two wars. Through the use of diaries--her own and others--as well as letters, Sheilagh tells her fascinating story, a tale that includes the puzzle of her paternity and the everlasting effects of her own motherhood. The unsatisfactory ending begs a sequel, but even so, this would make for a rousing discussion in a book club. Maureen O'Connor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 582 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st American Ed edition (April 17, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393064913
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393064919
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,732,420 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

She is highly intelligent with a razor sharp wit.
JoeV
There's very little of the present--perhaps 90% of the story is retrospective--a looking back at the events in her life.
David W. Straight
Overall I regret spending so much time on this unsatisfying book when I have a stack of others waiting for their turn.
Canadian Reader

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By David W. Straight on June 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Johnston's excellent Colony of Unrequited Dreams featured Joey Smallwood

with Sheilagh Fielding as a strong secondary presence. This novel

reverses that order--it features Sheilagh Fielding with Joey Smallwood

more in the background. This is not a book that you can hurry through--

think of a cup of very hot, very rich coffee--you have to sip it and savor

it slowly.

The writing is superb--rich prose with a wonderful sense of time and

place. Sheilagh Fielding, for reasons unclear at first, takes up

residence on an island off Newfoundland's south coast--in an abandoned

fishing village. There's very little of the present--perhaps 90% of

the story is retrospective--a looking back at the events in her life.

At six feet three and sharp-tongued (to put it mildly) she has not made

many friends (other than Smallwood). But she has a mysterious "provider"

who has kept an eye on her. The provider's role slowly unfolds--and much

of what Sheilagh (and the reader) thought they knew about her (Sheilagh's)

life gets turned around. In a way, this reminds me of Robert Goddard's

novels (qv) where the past gets unravelled many years later--but in this

case (unlike Goddard's books) Sheilagh starts learning about the

provider when she's 16, and at age 44 (when the novel opens) she has

been learning bits and pieces since she was 16. For me, the process was

like slowly and carefully taking the many layers of wrappings off a very

delicate object.

Johnston has written another wonderful book--this doesn't have the

historical sweep of Colony--but it's layered and rich, and not to be

missed.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Janeway on May 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have to admit, Wayne Johnston could write about anything and I'd gladly read it, and the fact that critics have compared him to Dickens is no surprise to me. I would, without hesitation, say he is the greatest novelist of our time. His words are like a warm sea that I could float in all day, and the continuity between this book and The Colony is perfect.

Sheilagh Fielding is my favorite character of all time, and when I first heard Mr. Johnston was devoting an entire novel to her, I thought it was too good to be true. And it was definitely worth the wait. There could have been no better followup to The Colony, and The Guardian may even be a greater book, if that is possible. My hat is definitely off to Mr. Johnston, a true genius in our midst.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ed on January 19, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When I came to this book on my nightstand and read the blurb, I couldn't imagine why I had bought it in the first place. When you read descriptions of the plot, it seems, at best, dull.
But the writing is wonderful. And the details, and sense of place, are fantastic. I couldn't put this book down, and you won't be able to either.
Excellent.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth J. Love on June 26, 2008
Format: Paperback
Wayne Johnston is a favorite author of mine. He writes so beautifully but the heroine this time around chained me and dragged me into whatever abyss the author happened to be in at the time. I always enjoy the historical aspects of his work, and the colorful characters generally make one think, laugh and commiserate but I could only find despair in Sheleigh. Her sarcasm was clever and intriguing for about three chapters, then I had no further tolerance. It was difficult to finish.
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By JoeV VINE VOICE on November 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover
With World War II in the background, forty-something-year-old Sheilagh Fielding packs her trunks to take up residence on a "deserted" island - population zero, Sheilagh checked - off the coast of Newfoundland. Her solitary goal is to write a novel. She has a tale to tell and an extraordinary tale it is, for it is the story of her tumultuous life.

Ms. Fielding is a unique individual; physically striking and over six feet tall; she is also lame in one leg. She is highly intelligent with a razor sharp wit. Conversing with Sheilagh - or finding yourself on the wrong side of her acerbic pen - Fielding is a "journalist" - is a dangerous proposition and not recommended for the thin-skinned. (She describes herself as "pointlessly at odds with everything".) Seemingly invulnerable, Sheilagh is also very human and just like the rest of us, is seeking her place in the world.

The Custodian of Paradise is a sweeping old-fashioned novel in the finest sense, sliding back and forth between "real-time" and the past with a wealth of interesting and quirky characters. There is much despair in Sheilagh's life and much of it is self-inflicted, yet as we learn, each time "Fielding" is knocked down - and she is knocked down a lot - she brushes herself off, rises and continues to persevere. Her mind - and particularly her wit - serving as both her protective armor and her psychological/emotional weapon of choice.

This may sound depressing or even maudlin, but it's not. Fielding's story is not only poignant, but at times laugh out loud funny, with Shielagh's uncanny ability to turn a phrase, sentence and paragraph - her saving grace and the book's driving force.
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