Winner 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…