Wow – what a character driven novel and full of layers! The Stone Diaries completely captured my heart from beginning to end. It is a beauty of a story, full of wit and emotional intelligence. It is the life story of Daisy Goodwill Flett, an ‘ordinary’ woman who clearly deserves her award-winning place in the literary world.
Originally published in 1993, The Stone Diaries won the Pulitzer Prize in 1995. It is often regarded as a modern classic. That is no surprise to me – I just can’t understand why it has taken me almost 30 years after publication to discover this book – a book that Margaret Atwood quite rightly describes as Carol Shields’ ‘glory book’.
From the onset I was intrigued by the unique writing style of The Stone Diaries as the narrative subtly shifts from an autobiographical to a biographical style. This is something that would normally really annoy me (I can be a very pernickety reader!) – yet as I was so consumed by the characters and the story – this just enhanced my fascination. I also felt confident that the book was written in this unique way for a particular reason. I was right to feel confident. As Carol Shields explains in her afterword:
When I first began the novel I thought I was writing a family saga…Before long I realized I was, instead, writing about the subject of autobiography, about the central question of whether or not we can know the story of our own lives…The most substantial parts of a human narrative, it seemed to me, were borrowed from the impressions that other people – friends and family and passing acquaintances – had of us and I wanted these imagined voices to enter the novel and to inform Daisy Goodwill Flett…What do people think of us? These received thoughts, sometimes tragically, make a life.Carol Shields
Beginning in 1905 and spanning almost a century, I loved the array of supporting characters used to portray Daisy’s life as an ‘ordinary woman’ – a daughter, a widow, a friend, a wife, a mother… Many themes including friendship and grief are explored throughout the novel through a complex mosaic of human nature and societal beliefs as the 20th century progresses. Like Daisy who ‘has a little trouble with getting things straight; with the truth, that is‘ all the supporting characters are a flawed. The character of Barker Flett specifically intrigued me – he is a complex, fascinating character which at times made me feel so uneasy but then I was really drawn to him and his vulnerability.
Sex is a recurring theme in this novel that is brilliantly explored – sometimes uncomfortably, other times with a brilliant use of dry wit. However I was shocked how Daisy’s virginity is casually discussed throughout the 1920s middle class community that she is part of:
What a blessing Daisy doesn’t know that there are others in Bloomington who are acquainted with the state of her intact hymen…Dr. Maldive, for one, who examined her after she returned to Bloomington. Shortly thereafter this same Dr. Maldive, in good conscience, communicated the curious fact of non-consummation to Daisy’s father…(it seemed the responsible thing to do, man-to-man thing), and the good doctor had also…spoken of it to his wife Gladys, who let the fact slip, framing it in in the form of an eye brow-lifting speculation, to her bridge club acquaintance, Mrs. Arthur Hoad who…announced her conclusion at every social opportunity…that young Daisy Goodwill was an unnatural woman of profound frigidity.
The Stone Diaries is a profound exploration of ‘ordinary women’ throughout the 20th century. It is also a compelling, witty family saga with a family tree which I loved – I kept referring back to it as I read. This made me so happy as I am a massive fan of family trees 🙂 .
As a book blogger I feel very privileged that I was invited to read and review this reissued edition of The Stone Diaries with a forward by the legendary Margaret Atwood. Marking the launch of the Carol Shields Prize for Fiction, a North American literary award dedicated to writing by women, international literature specialists World Editions have reissued this stunning novel with a bright, eye catching new cover. Carol Shields sadly passed in 2003, but she made a profound and unforgettable mark in literature. I will definitely be reading The Stone Diaries again as well as her other novels.
Thank you to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours and World Editions for inviting me to be part of the blog tour to promote the re-publication of The Stone Diaries. To read the reviews from my fellow book bloggers, please see below: