I spent the second half of 2015 working on a new collection of Carol Shields’ writing advice. Startle and Illuminate: Carol Shields on Writing was edited by Carol’s daughter Anne Giardini and grandson Nicholas Giardini. It includes introductions by Anne and Nicholas about the process of seeking out materials in the Carol Shields Archive in Ottawa, and what it was like to read and edit their mother/grandmother. Jane Urquhart supplied a foreword about her friend Carol and her enduring presence as a writing mentor. Startle and Illuminate is the perfect gift for any writer or teacher of writing, and for the many Carol Shields fans out there.

I’ve used the opportunity to read more of Carol’s fiction, and recently finished Unless while on holiday in Vancouver.

Unless is the worry word of the English language. It flies like a moth around the ear, you hardly hear it, and yet everything depends on its breathy presence. Unless—that’s the little subjunctive mineral you carry along in your pocket crease. It’s always there, or not there…. Unless you’re lucky, unless you’re healthy, fertile, unless you’re loved and fed, unless you’re clear about your sexual direction, unless you’re offered what others are offered, you go down in the darkness, down to despair. Unless provides you with a trapdoor, a tunnel into the light, the reverse side of not enough. Unless keeps you from drowning in the presiding arrangements.

It’s an incredibly textured novel, and quite moving. I’ll next turn to Small Ceremonies, the structure of which may inform a novel I look forward to editing in the next few years.


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