This year, I have been focusing on reading more books by Canadian authors which has been a fabulous exploration of wonderful stories! Included in my goal of more CanLit, I have read The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields which is the lifelong story of Daisy Goodwill Flett and is one of the books in the CBC’s List of 100 Novels that Make You Proud to be Canadian. The novel spans the years from 1905 until her death in an unspecified year in the 1990s and crosses western Canada, Indiana (USA), Ottawa, Ontario and Orkney (UK).
Daisy’s birth was dramatic, ending in the death of her soft mother who didn’t seem to even expect her daughter’s arrival. Her father, a stone mason, was very capable shaping stone yet is ill equipped to care for an infant so a kindly neighbour, looking for her own escape from her unsatisfying marriage, takes charge of baby Daisy.
The story is broken down into chapters including her birth, childhood, marriage, love, motherhood, work, sorrow, ease, illness and decline with the final chapter being death. Each chapter is marked with a year except for the final chapter of death which is marked as 199- where her children and other reflect on their mother’s life finding out details about her that they had not been aware of.
Each chapter defines her life during that phase and builds the story which she reflects upon at the end of her life. It is filled of interesting characters – caregivers, friends, spouses, children and extended family who all have an impact on her life. The novel is written as a memoir yet it is fictional complete with pictures of Daisy’s family inserted in the middle which I found unusual since the characters were written by Shields.
After reading the book, I was surprised to discover that Shields was born in Illinois and had studied in England where she met her husband who was a Canadian. Her honeymoon in 1957 consisted of her drive from Chicago to Vancouver and she finally became a Canadian citizen in 1971. As she raised her family she began to write stories with her first publication in 1962. In the early 1990s she began researching stone quarries in western Canada, Indiana and Orkney for Stone Diaries which would be her 8th novel. In 1995, The Stone Diaries won the Pulitzer Prize and this novel sold over a million copies. In 1998, Shields was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer and she died in 2003.
I have to admit that I did find the novel a bit slow in the beginning. Despite a few extraordinary events, it really told the story of a housewife dealing with day-to-day life and reflecting back in her later years. Her childhood was unusual yet once she was married and raising her own family, her life and her aging seeming quite mundane. Despite the slower pace of the novel, the reader did come to appreciate Daisy and her struggles as she reflected back at the end of her life.
The novel quietly describes how a life can be reduced to a drawer with a few items at the end of one’s life once the family home is sold, the children have grown up and spouses are deceased. It truly is a novel that makes the reader reflect and would be interesting to read again in a different phase of my own life.