The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

The Stone DiariesWinner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1995, ‘The Stone Diaries’ by Carol Shields is a fictional biography of Daisy Goodwill which outlines her life story in ten chapters covering her birth, childhood, marriage, love, motherhood, work, sorrow, ease, illness and death.  Born in Canada in 1905, Daisy’s life spans the majority of the twentieth century and is both very ordinary and yet also highly extraordinary.

As the story of ‘The Stone Diaries’ is more or less given away in the chapter titles, I originally thought that this was a book that I might give up on if the characters didn’t grab me straight away especially as there was no real plot to focus on.  I was also a bit put off by the rather complicated-looking family tree at the beginning as I wasn’t really in the mood for reading something which required keeping track of dozens of minor characters.  However, I was soon engrossed in the events of Daisy’s life and devoured the book in two days. Despite spanning several decades, Shields concentrates on the everyday details of specific events which made both the story and the characters highly accessible.  

Shields has a talent for writing in different styles in line with the development of the characters while also ensuring that the book remains cohesive as a whole.  I particularly liked the ‘Work’ chapter set during the years when Daisy writes a gardening column for a magazine under the name Mrs Green Thumb.  While much of the book is written in standard prose, this particular chapter is written in the form of a series of letters addressed to Daisy from her daughter, friends, colleagues and other characters.  The reader doesn’t get to see any of Daisy’s replies to these messages yet it is so cleverly compiled that you can still imagine how she would have responded to them.  It is also a good example of how Daisy remains quite distant to the reader despite being the main character.  Her own private thoughts are rarely revealed and many parts of her life are recounted from the point of view of her friends and relatives rather than her own perspective. However, even Daisy’s seemingly ordinary and relatively uneventful life proves to be unique, interesting and quietly transformative in its own way.

Overall, I enjoyed ‘The Stone Diaries’ more than I initially thought I would and I particularly appreciated the subtleties of Shields’ writing.  I have now added ‘Unless’ to my TBR pile which seems to just keep on growing…


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12 responses to “The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

  1. I read this years ago and loved it, your review makes me want to read it again 🙂


  2. Fictionquest

    I have read all her novels. The Stone Diaries is about an ordinary woman who lived nonetheless an interesting life. The Stone from her father’s quarries built the modern cities of Chicago and New York. Even Daisy’her daughters who thought they knew everything about their Mom did not realize she had been briefly married before she married their father. Unless was written when Carol Shields was terminally ill. It is about searching for joy in life no matter the circumstances. I think however, her early novel Swann is one of my favorites. It is about many things but at the periphery there is a dead poet whose memory academics are trying to turn into some romantic idea of what a poet should be instead of recognizing her reality of having been an abused wife.
    Not fair,Carol Sheilds dies too soon.


    • Oh dear I didn’t realise Carol had died. That is so sad, as she was a wonderful writer. 😦

      I read the Stone Diaries a long time ago and that’s the sort of thing I like – I like many Canadian writers for some reason, and I also I like that everyday observational stuff she does so well.


  3. This was the first book that I bought in hard back because the review I’d read made it impossible to wait for the paperback. I’d never heard of Shields but went on to read everything she wrote. Your review reminds me how much I love her work and makes me think it might be time for a re-read.


  4. I read this about 3 or 4 years ago with my book club and really enjoyed it. Look forward to reading more of her work which is very personable and sensitive.


  5. I found ‘Shields’ several years ago, and immediately devoured several of her books, your post has made me remember that there are more that I never got round to. Thank you.


  6. Thank you so much for this review. It was also good to read the other readers’ comments. This has been sitting on my shelf for a few years now and I actually almost gave it away in my last round-up of books to donate. I’m so glad I kept it. I will look forward to reading this.


  7. I read this years ago whilst living in Canada and exploring Local Authors. Must say I DID give up as I just didn’t like the lack of story and feel of the book. Having said that, it was a bleak time in my life and I find that strong moods may affect my perception of a book. I don’t put down many books, but a lot of the ones that I reject tend to be ‘prize winners’, like The Stone Diaries and Wolf Hall. LOL. Perhaps I should try these again. Both still on my shelf.


  8. I read the Stone Diaries about ten years ago and loved it! Shield is brilliant at shifting historically significant events to the margins of the story and celebrating the ordinary and the everyday.


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