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Unless: A Novel (P.S.) Paperback – January 3, 2006

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Unless: A Novel (P.S.) + Anil's Ghost: A Novel
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Product Details

  • Series: P.S.
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; First Edition edition (January 3, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060874406
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060874407
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #78,889 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“A landmark book...yet another noteworthy addition to Shields’s impressive body of work.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“A brave, profound, and quirky novel with an undercurrent of the deeply amusing.” (Anita Shreve, author of Sea Glass)

“A wonderful, powerful book, written in a style which combines simplicity and elegance. I found it deeply moving.” (Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat)

“Finely detailed, thoughtful and sometimes even humorous, this book is highly recommended for all fiction collections.” (Library Journal)

“Often quietly heartbreaking...often, bitingly humorous.” (Kirkus (starred review))

“Marvelously idiosyncratic, passionate and wise, Shields’ tenth novel rollicks from beginning to end with sauciness and wit.” (Book Magazine)

“A thing of beauty—lucidly written, artfully ordered, riddled with riddles and undergirded with dark layers of philosophical meditations.” (Los Angeles Times)

“With a poet’s precision, Shields dissects grief and makes coping with bad luck feel like domestic heroism.” (People)

“Some hefty perceptions, fortunately shared with us in this fine novel.” (Washington Post Book World)

“The best of her novels...fearless, smart, funny, beautifully written.” (New Orleans Times-Picayune)

“A fine book, poignant, witty, rich in character, vivid in its sense of place...surprisingly suspenseful.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

“Remarkably subtle and unsettling...one of those books that make you regret that reading is a solitary pleasure.” (Christian Science Monitor)

“Luminous ... Shields is a consummate master of tone and acute psychological insight.” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

“A luminous novel ...Shields writes with clarity, intelligence and generosity, finding meaning in most mundane details of home life.” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

“A novel of...assured intelligence and defiant vivacity.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

“When Shields is good she is very good. There are nuggets of pure gold in Unless.” (Newark Star Ledger)

“An engaging, memorable novel.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

“Relentlessly fine...imagined with style and vigor, melancholoy and wisdom.” (San Diego Union-Tribune)

“Closely observed moments create the kind of subtle textures and elegant prose that won Ms. Shields the Pulitzer Prize.” (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

“Unless succeeds beautifully...Shields [is] an expert at illuminating the complicated dynamics of off-kilter families.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

“A fitting farewell from an author revered for her graceful, insightful writing...sparkles with wry humor and elegant irony.” (Hartford Courant)

“Truly, a miracle of language and perception.” (The Oregonian (Portland))

“All the trademark Shields delights are robustly present: idiosyncratic plotting; limber prose...deep compassion...tart commentary and irreverent wit.” (Orlando Sentinel)

“Entirely satisfying… Shields’ voice, tender and moderated at all times, remains wise and very readable.” (Houston Chronicle)

“Shields’s novels and short stories are intensely imagined, humanely generous, beautifully sustained and impeccably detailed.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Nothing short of astonishing.” (The New Yorker)

“A superb new novel...a graceful coda, an arabesque performed over an abyss.” (Time magazine)

“All novelists worth their fictional salt can create fine characters; Carol Shields creates lives. ” (New York Times Book Review)

“A raw, subtle, inspiring novel about feminism, femininity, virtue, oppression and motherhood...I was inexpressibly moved by it.” (Rachel Cusk, Daily Telegraph (London))

“Her wisdom and generosity of spirit are visible at every turn.” (London Times (Sunday))

About the Author

Carol Shields was born in Chicago and lived in Canada for most of her life. She is the author of three short story collections and eight novels, including the Pulitzer Prize -- winning The Stone Diaries and Larry’s Party, winner of the Orange Prize.

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Customer Reviews

The story, the characters, and the language shine!
I didn't care about the characters, the end was predictable, and there was way too much filler.
Rural Reader
Our library fiction book group read this novel by Carol Shields and enjoyed it.
L. M. Keefer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By B. Case TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 12, 2008
Format: Paperback
Carol Shields' last novel, "Unless," is a refreshing intellectual and literary treat. I enjoyed this novel so much I read it twice in quick succession. The novel is a fitting capstone to an illustrious literary career.

There are three stories intertwined in this short novel. First, there is the story of Reta Winters, the mother, a woman whose 18-year-old daughter has inexplicably and suddenly dropped out of life to sit mute on a Toronto street corner panhandling with a sign around her neck reading, "GOODNESS." Second, it is the story of Reta Winters, the author, a woman in the process of writing a comic novel called "My Thyme is Up" and also assisting her feminist mentor, Danielle Westerman, translate her childhood memoirs. Finally, it is the story of Reta Winters, the feminist, a woman quietly raging against the marginalization of women in all walks of life, but especially in the world of literary publishing.

Much of the novel focuses on the nature of goodness. Reta wonders if her daughter's homelessness is some kind of protest against female powerlessness. Perhaps her daughter has suddenly become aware that she must settle for goodness, since greatness still appears to be a realm reserved for men only.

Reta is a 44-year old Canadian writer and translator living in rural Orangetown, Ontario. Reta is a writer in the process of creating a novel...so there is this fascinating infinite digression about a woman writer writing a novel about another woman writer writing a novel. Winters has much to say about the process of writing that is both humorous and insightful, but mostly she rants brilliantly about the marginalization of woman authors.

Reta is a charming, social, busy woman with many friends and responsibilities.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 19, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"A life is full of isolated events, but these events, if they are to form a coherent narrative, require odd pieces of language to cement them together, little chips of grammar (mainly adverbs or prepositions) that are hard to define, since they are abstractions of location or relative position, words like therefore, else, other, also, thereof, theretofore, instead, otherwise, despite, already, and not yet." In this, the opening of the final chapter of her final book, Carol Shields explains the structure of her novel, and the oblique nature of its chapter headings: once, wherein, nevertheless, so... . She explains it too well, actually, for coherent narrative is the one thing that her book lacks, at least until the very end. It is a brilliantly-written collection of fragments: family memories, observations on the art of writing, unsent letters to various male recipients chiding them for their chauvinism, and thoughts about a new novel that the protagonist is writing. But not really a story.

Reta Winters, mid-forties, living some miles from Toronto, mother of three teenage daughters, and blessed with a loving partner, has achieved some renown as the translator of the French poet and Holocaust survivor Danielle Westerman. Striking out on her own, she has published a light romance entitled "My Thyme is Up," and her publishers have contracted a sequel, "Thyme in Bloom." But she is mired in bewilderment and grief. Her eldest daughter, Norah, has dropped out of college, left her boyfriend, and spends her days on a street corner in Toronto with a begging bowl and a hand-lettered sign saying GOODNESS. She will not respond to her siblings or parents, who are at a loss to understand the cause of her virtual self-immolation.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By L. M. Keefer TOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 25, 2013
Format: Paperback
Our library fiction book group read this novel by Carol Shields and enjoyed it. It was my first introduction to Carol Shields and made me want to read more novels by her as her prose is captivating. Many of us in the group are parents so the dilemma which Shields sets up captured our interest. A happy family get an unpleasant jolt when one of their daughters, Noah, age 18, leaves university to be homeless and sit on a street corner in Toronto holding a sign which says GOODNESS.

Does she have a drug problem, or a sudden mental illness? What would we do if one of our children suddenly did this? We sympathized with the mother Reta Winters, a 44-year-old writer, who is working with an octogenarian author, a holocaust survivor. The survivor, Danielle Westerman, was a delicious character and one of our favorites in the book.

This book reads a bit like a mystery as Reta, and her common law husband, are trying to discern what precipitated Noah's actions. But Shields also uses this book to have Reta talk about women writers, women in general, and why they are marginalized. This was Shield's final book, and you wonder if it was slightly autobiographical and she wanted to vent a bit. If you like reading about characters who are authors, you might enjoy this novel. It is well-written with engaging and sympathetic characters. It was not a long book, and our fiction group members were glad we read it. It was nominated for the Booker and Orange Prizes. The TIMES OF LONDON listed it as one of the top 100 books of the decade.
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