The Republic of Love by Carol Shields (Blog Tour Review)

“Let’s hear it for love.”

Last year I read, or reread, six Carol Shields novels (my roundup post). The ongoing World Editions reissue series is my excuse to continue rereading her this year – Mary Swann, another I’m keen to try again, is due out in August.

The Republic of Love (1992), the seventh of Shields’s 10 novels, was a runner-up for the Guardian Fiction Prize and was adapted into a 2003 film directed by Deepa Mehta. (I love Emilia Fox; how have I not seen this?!)

The chapters alternate between the perspectives of radio disc jockey Tom Avery and mermaid researcher Fay McLeod, two thirtysomething Winnipeg lonely hearts who each have their share of broken relationships behind them – three divorces for Tom; a string of long-term live-in boyfriends for Fay. It’s clear that these two characters are going to meet and fall in love (at almost exactly halfway through), but Shields is careful to interrogate the myths of love at first sight and happily ever after.

On this reread, I was most struck by the subplot about Fay’s parents’ marriage and especially liked the secondary characters (like Fay’s godmother, Onion) and the surprising small-world moments that take place in Winnipeg even though it was then a city of some 600,000 people. Shields has a habit of recording minor characters’ monologues (friends, family, radio listeners, and colleagues) word for word without letting Fay or Tom’s words in edgewise.

Tom sometimes feels like a caricature – the male/female dynamic is not as successful here as in the Happenstance dual volume, which also divides the perspective half and half – and I wasn’t entirely sure what the mermaid theme is meant to contribute. Mermaids are sexually ambiguous, and in Fay’s Jungian interpretation represent the soul emerging from the unconscious. In any case, they’re an excuse for Fay to present papers at folklore conferences and spend four weeks traveling in Europe (Amsterdam, Copenhagen, northwest France).

The cover on the copy I read in 2016.

Straightforward romance plots don’t hold much appeal for me anymore, but Shields always impresses with her compassionate understanding of human nature and the complexities of relationships.

This was not one of my favorites of hers, and the passage of nearly five years didn’t change that, but it’s still pleasant and will suit readers of similarly low-key, observant novels by women: Kate Grenville’s The Idea of Perfection, Elizabeth Hay’s Late Nights on Air, Mary Lawson’s A Town Called Solace, and Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist.

Favorite lines:

“Most people’s lives don’t wrap up nearly as neatly as they’d like to think. Fay’s sure of that. Most people’s lives are a mess.”

Fay’s mother: “I sometimes think that the best thing about your mermaids is the fact that they never age.”

 

The Republic of Love was reissued in the UK by World Editions in February. My thanks to the publisher for the free copy for review.

I was delighted to take part in the blog tour for The Republic of Love. See below for details of where other reviews and features have appeared or will be appearing.

16 responses

  1. I’ve recently started to revisit Shields A rewarding experience, and this is one I somehow missed first time round as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s lovely to hear. Larry’s Party and The Stone Diaries were real highlights for me last year in rereading, and Small Ceremonies was a great discovery.

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  2. Thanks so much for the blog tour support x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No problem, Anne. Always a pleasure!

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  3. I’m glad she’s being reissued although I’m not a huge fan myself.

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    1. Which of her books have you tried? There are certainly some I liked better than others.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This one, Larry’s Party, The Stone Diaries and Various Miracles are the ones I have on my spreadsheet. I just didn’t engage with her well, as far as I recall, certainly not like other people do.

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  4. I really loved this one when I read it a few years back and romance isn’t usually my thing either. SO far though, I think Swann is my favourite.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That one’s being reissued in August — a good excuse for me to reread it, too!

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  5. I’ve been so impressed with all your Carol Shields reading… I’m so woefully behind. I didn’t even know this was being reissued. And I haven’t seen the film yet, either!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope the reissues will help her work to be better known in the UK. She was the first Canadian author I really got into, entirely by chance, though I’ve now read more by Atwood in total.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Your list of comparisons seems spot-on to me, as this is one of my favourites and the others you’ve mentioned are also favourites. I still have more than 100 pages left in my reread and I haven’t yet keyed my flagged passages to see which parts stood out for me more this time around. It doesn’t surprise me that you missed the film…Canadian productions are not always distributed in such a way that they reach viewers. Actually, there are only two copies left in all 100 branches of the city library system, too, so I’m super grateful that I’ll have the opportunity to view it one more time. Shall I record myself watching it so you can see it too? LOL

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This must be just the sort of book you love … is it also the sort you would write? 🙂

      We actually tried doing a Zoom screen share for book club, viewing the Daniel Day-Lewis/Michelle Pfeiffer Age of Innocence film one member had bought for Amazon streaming. The quality of sound and picture was SO poor it only barely worked.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. At one time, I might have thought so, but it hasn’t turned out that way. And maybe that makes me love reading them even more.

        Aww, that’s too bad. I was kidding but I did kind of wonder if it would even work. Anyway, it does look like it’s available through some streaming services, if one was determined. The critical response was not very enthusiastic though; I do recall it seeming very quiet and quintessentially Canadian, all about character and mood and being faithful to the story.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’ve always wondered what sort of fiction I would write. For some reason I have it in my head that I would write the kind of stuff I might admire but not love myself, e.g. like William Faulkner.

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  7. […] not doing as well with my rereading goal this year as I did in 2020. So far I’ve gotten to The Republic of Love by Carol Shields and the two below (with another DNF). Considering that I completed 16 rereads last […]

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