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The Republic of Love by Carol Shields

The Republic of Love (1992)

by Carol Shields

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7021319,431 (3.76)29



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One is the loneliest number. And boy does it take a long time to get to two. This was the first Shields book I was exasperated by. Chapter after chapter filled with the quotidian minutiae of both Tom and Fay. It’s no secret they will get together, but it does seem to take forever. And considering their close orbits and near misses, it’s a bit of a wonder that it does. Their connection is reasonably direct, but it still takes a bit of chance to get it going.

I did like how Shields made Fay a bit unconventional. She made decisions that I didn’t predict given my prejudice regarding ‘love stories’ and their storytelling crutches. I should have known better with this writer, but there you go.

There are the usual moments of beautiful prose and a terrific sense of the absurd. The mere idea of a folklore center is wonderful as is Fay’s job as an Associate Folklorist. Delicious - “She is a woman plagued with information, burdened with it, and always checking an impulse to pass it on to others. Is Peter Knightly, her lover of a thousand wasted days, aware that in certain Slavic villages young men on Good Friday fashion squirt guns from reeds and spray each other with water, and that this, of course, has strong sexual implications?” p 22

And Tom’s job, though more tangible, is just as odd and romantic - he’s a nighttime DJ who hosts an eclectic and popular show of his own device. He loves a good routine and condemns himself for his three failed marriages. Luckily he’s not self-pitying.

Here are some more of Shield's gems -

“But he {Tom} has no children, no relatives, no property, none of the blown aftermath other people attach to their arrangements.” p 241

“He set an eave of muffin afloat in his coffee…” p 78

“What Fay uncovers are mostly fragments, blurred visions, partial accounts, and even these tentative offerings are underpinned by the suggestion of hard drink, and the deceptive algebra of the imagination trying to make a story out of the absence of linearity.” p 195

“Tom puts this question to himself, finding it more speculative and interesting than the issue of hypochondria, a shameful condition boiled out of ego and abetted by loneliness.” p 391

“Was she shriveling up inside her jangling singleness?” p 283 ( )
1 vote Bookmarque | Sep 18, 2017 |
This is my favourite novel by Carol Shields, and the only one of hers that isn't dark. It's a literary novel but also a romance. I wish I could remember more details (must have been a sleep deprived nursing mother when I read it), but I remember liking this a great deal and plan to read it again so I can remember more about it. ( )
  Karin7 | Jan 20, 2016 |
I think I must have overlooked this at the time because it was the novel Shields wrote immediately before her two big international successes, The Stone diaries and Larry's Party. A shame, but anyway, better late than never - it seems to have aged very well. It's a clever, ironic look at the way rational and irrational thinking get mixed up with each other in our lives, and the compromises and suspensions of disbelief that we have to make to get them to work together. (Or, to put it another way, a thinly-disguised romantic comedy!) Enjoyable as an entertainment, and probably full of little in-jokes for anyone who knows Winnipeg, but also occasionally quite thought-provoking.
Something that only really struck me when I'd finished the book was how cleverly Shields manages to tell us the key story about the older characters - her own contemporaries - whilst making us think that it's all about the young(ish) central characters. ( )
  thorold | Apr 23, 2014 |
Spoiler-free summary:
Fay McLeod, a folklorist studying mermaids, wakes up one morning to quite simply realize that she does not love her partner of three years. Tom Avery, a late-night radio host who was raised by 27 mothers, has been married and divorced three times. Both, despite their infinite connections to the city, are alone, drifting through the familiar streets of Winnipeg, surrounded by a complex web of acquaintances and memories. Carol Shields' The Republic of Love chronicles their tumultuous paths toward love and happiness, which may or may not go hand in hand.


I am so surprised (and somewhat ashamed) that I had not heard of Carol Shields or The Republic of Love before receiving this ARC from Open Road Media. Apparently a movie was made based on the book and Shields won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Stone Diaries. After beginning the novel, it really did not come as a shock to learn that Shields was such a revered writer. This book definitely stands out from other books I've reviewed. It is polished, amazing, beautiful, astounding - I could go on and on. I loved this book.

This novel, I've decided, is what I will hand out when and if people ask me, "What is love?" Love is a wordless, messy, nonsensical thing that, somehow, Carol Shields has been able to describe in a beautiful, witty novel. How? I keep asking myself, "how?" I want to pass this novel out to my friends, my family, my ex-boyfriends, everyone, with the hope that they will understand me better when they're finished.

It's sweet and romantic, but it is also devastating and disturbing. Shields does not sugar coat things that we are accustomed to being sugary sweet. People do things in this novel that make no sense and they hurt one another and it's fabulous because it's true. Shields spends just as much time describing the dark underbelly of love as she does describing the beauty and happiness of it. I liked that. A lot.

I loved the language - the novel is written in beautiful, rhythmic prose. Moments of complete incomprehension and unhappiness are described with succinct grace. Tom and Fay both had their own clearly defined voice, which I appreciated.

Please, read this novel.

www.bookpuke.com ( )
  stephaniesanders | Mar 21, 2014 |
Fay & Tom in Winnipeg; she a folklorist, he a radio talkshow host
  aletheia21 | Jan 19, 2014 |
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As a baby, Tom Avery had twenty-seven mothers. So he says.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140149902, Paperback)

The acclaimed author of The Orange Fish and Swann writes a delicious, sophisticated novel of modern romance about a folklorist with a penchant for the past who falls in love with a off-beat, spontaneous disc jockey, who's definitely wrapped up in the present. "A touching, elegantly funny, lucious work of fiction."--New York Times Book Review.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:50 -0400)

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Fay and Tom, each concerned with their own respective obsessions, finally fall in love.

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Voland Edizioni

An edition of this book was published by Voland Edizioni.

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