Announcing our Top 20 Books of 2022 and Award Winners

Reviews of Unless by Carol Shields

Unless

by Carol Shields

Unless by Carol Shields X
Unless by Carol Shields
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    May 2002, 224 pages

    Paperback:
    May 2003, 336 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

A harrowing but ultimately consoling story of one family's anguish and healing.

I'm not interested, the way some people are, in being sad. I've had a look, and there's nothing down that road. Well now! What about the ripping sound behind my eyes, the starchy tearing of fabric, end to end; what about the need I have to curl up my knees when I sleep?

For all of her life, 44 year old Reta Winters has enjoyed the useful monotony of happiness: a loving family, good friends, growing success as a writer of light 'summertime' fiction. But this placid existence is cracked wide open when her beloved eldest daughter, Norah, drops out to sit on a gritty street corner, silent but for the sign around her neck that reads 'GOODNESS.' Reta's search for what drove her daughter to such a desperate statement turns into an unflinching and surprisingly funny meditation on where we find meaning and hope.

Warmth, passion and wisdom come together in Shields' remarkably supple prose. Unless, a harrowing but ultimately consoling story of one family's anguish and healing, proves her mastery of extraordinary fictions about ordinary life.

Here's

It happens that I am going through a period of great unhappiness and loss just now. All my life I've heard people speak of finding themselves in acute pain, bankrupt in spirit and body, but I've never understood what they meant. To lose. To have lost. I believed these visitations of darkness lasted only a few minutes or hours and that these saddened people, in between bouts, were occupied, as we all were, with the useful monotony of happiness. But happiness is not what I thought. Happiness is the lucky pane of glass you carry in your head. It takes all your cunning just to hang on to it, and once it's smashed you have to move into a different sort of life.

   In my new life--the summer of the year 2000--I am attempting to "count my blessings." Everyone I know advises me to take up this repellent strategy, as though they really believe a dramatic loss can be replaced by the renewed appreciation of all one has been given. I have a husband, Tom, who loves me and is ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

"Unless, unless. Unless is the worry word of the English language. It flies like a moth around your ear. You hardly hear and yet, everything depends on its breathy presence. Unless -- that's the little subjunctive mineral you carry along in your pocket crease. It's always there, or else not there. Unless you're lucky, unless you're healthy, fertile, unless you're loved and fed, unless you're clear about your sexual direction, unless you're offered what others are offered. You go down into darkness, down into despair. Unless provides us with a trap door, a tunnel into the light the reverse side of not enough. Unless keeps you from presiding into the drowning arrangements. Ironically, unless, the lever which that finally shifts reality into ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Reviews

Media Reviews

Book Magazine
Marvelously idiosyncratic, passionate and wise, Shields' tenth novel rollicks from beginning to end with sauciness and wit.

New York Times Book Review
The Stone Diaries reminds us again why literature matters.

San Francisco Chronicle
A novel of... assured intelligence and defiant vivacity.

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

Time Magazine
A superb new novel...a graceful coda, an arabesque performed over an abyss.

Booklist - Brad Hooper
Shields shares with fellow Canadian Alice Munro not only her Ontario milieu but also a gift for psychological acuity expressed in limpid, shimmering prose.

Kirkus
Starred Review. Often quietly heartbreaking...often, bitingly humorous.

Library Journal
With yet another delectable investigation into human folly, Shields helps launch a new imprint at HarperCollins.

Publishers Weekly
A landmark book that constitutes yet another noteworthy addition to Shields's impressive body of work.

Author Blurb Anita Shreve, author of Sea Glass
A brave, profound, and quirky novel with an undercurrent of the deeply amusing.

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

Reader Reviews

Erin McGrath

Unless will be a book that lives on in my heart. It has touched me deeply in a way I can only try to begin to explain. I started reading this book shortly after I found out my sister was murdered and I thought I would find commonality between Norah ...   Read More
Shirley Johnson

I am so grateful for Carol Shields and her works. I know it can't be true, but it always seems as though the words just pour out onto the page effortlessly. It is difficult to say why a book "hits" you, but one way I judge it for myself ...   Read More
Amy B

This book is excellent. Very touching . Carol Shields you did it again . . . You've made the Big One! This book is very compeling and very heart touching.
Helen H

I found the book very difficult to engage with, as I felt the author was juggling too many themes and that she had not a clear strategy for combining these themes in order to make the book a complete entitity. The characterization was very sketchy, ...   Read More

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Read-alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Unless, try these:

  • Hot Milk jacket

    Hot Milk

    by Deborah Levy

    Published 2017

    About this book

    More by this author

    A richly mythic, colour-saturated tale which explores the violently primal bond between mother and daughter.

  • A Secret Kept jacket

    A Secret Kept

    by Tatiana de Rosnay

    Published 2011

    About this book

    More by this author

    From Tatiana de Rosnay, author of the New York Times bestseller Sarah's Key, A Secret Kept plumbs the depths of complex family relationships and the power of a past secret to change everything in the present.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search read-alikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Join and Save 20%!

Become a member and
discover exceptional books.

Find out more


Award Winners

  • Book Jacket: Horse
    Horse
    by Geraldine Brooks
    Voted 2022 Best Fiction Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers. Geraldine Brooks creates a ...
  • Book Jacket: In Love
    In Love
    by Amy Bloom
    Voted 2022 Best Nonfiction Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers. In 2019, author Amy Bloom and her...
  • Book Jacket: Remarkably Bright Creatures
    Remarkably Bright Creatures
    by Shelby Van Pelt
    Voted 2022 Best Debut Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers. Shelby Van Pelt's debut novel, ...

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Scatterlings
    by Resoketswe Martha Manenzhe

    The debut novel of a gifted storyteller who has become a sensation in her native South Africa.

Wordplay

The Big Holiday Wordplay

Enter Now

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
Cradles of the Reich
by Jennifer Coburn
Three women, a nation seduced by a madman, and the Nazi breeding program to create a so-called master race.
Who Said...

Music is the pleasure the human mind experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.