CAROL SHIELDS (1935-2003) is the author of The Stone Diaries, which won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Canada's Governor General's Award. Her other novels and short story collections include The Republic of Love, Happenstance, and Swann. Shields's work has been translated into 33 languages.
Mary Swann, a fictitious poet, was brutally murdered by her husband; her poems were published posthumously. Some years later, as this novel opens, a group of scholars meets for a Swann Symposium. We follow four of the participants as they prepare for the meeting: Sarah Maloney, brilliant young feminist scholar; Morton Jimroy, literary biographer; Rose Hindmarch, librarian; and Frederic Cruzzi, small-town journalist and publisher. Each distorts a different aspect of the life and work of Mary Swann. This novel delightfully satirizes academia and the literary world, wryly exploring the notion of textual criticism. Shields is well known in Canada; Swann should make her better known in her native United States.-- Mary Margaret Benson, Linfield Coll. Lib., McMinnville, Ore.
Viking has wisely decided not to publish this fascinating novel as a mystery, as it was designated in Canada, where it earned excellent reviews. While two (rather bland) mysteries animate the plot, the book's considerable impact is as a combination of psychological novel and satirical comedy of manners that wittily dissects the pretensions of academia. The titular Mary Swann was murdered on the very day she had shown her poems to a publisher who recognized her talent. Fifteen years after her death, a symposium is to take place; the story focuses on four people who will attend: a ferociously engagee feminist scholar who ``rediscovered'' Swann's poetry, a misanthropic biographer committed to writing about Swann, a silly spinster librarian in the tiny town near Swann's home and the gruff but kindly publisher who issued her works in a limited edition. Each commands a section of the narrative and, in cool, witty prose, Shields artfully conveys their personalities, as well as the distortions each has made, for their own reasons, in Swann's life and work. (Meanwhile, however, a thief is systematically stealing every extant copy of her book.) In the end, Swann's life remains unknowable, though by now completely altered by her devotees' speculation and obfuscation. Adroitly illuminating the chasm between appearance and reality, this intelligent, provocative novel is sure to pique readers' interest in Shields's earlier work, Various Miracles , just reissued by Penguin. (July)
"One of the best novels I have read... deft, funny, poignant,
surprising and beautifully shaped-in total command of itself and
its language." -- Margaret Atwood
"A brilliant literary mystery...a delightful send-up of the scholarly sideshow that surrounds a work of art." -- Kirkus Reviews
"...a compelling work...exquisitely crafted..." -- Globe and Mail
"Gently satirical... [Carol Shields] has a compassion for her characters that can make you ache for them." -- The New York Times
"Well-drawn characters, expert writing, and silky malice are combined in an exceptionally satisfying work of fiction" -- The Atlantic Monthly
"A spicily witty tale of literary malarkey." -- The Sunday Times (U.K.)