I nearly disgraced myself on my daily commute while reading this wonderful novel; it’s the first book that’s made me cry since The Time Traveller’s Wife.

unless-carol-shields3850_f.jpgUnless  was first published in 2002 and is the story of Reta Winters whose daughter Norah has made herself homeless and now sits on a corner in Toronto with a sign round her neck which simply reads goodness. The novel follows Reta as she struggles to understand how this has happened, as she tries to write a sequel to her novel. There are some wonderful images in the book; I particularly identified with her description of “Bookish people, who are often maladroit people, perisit in thinking they can master any subtlety so long as its been shped into acceptable expository prose.”

Reta reflects a great deal on the position of women in society but there is nothing strident or preaching here; she suggests trhough one of her characters that powerlessness and passivity are the “traditional refuge of women without power” and that this may explain Norah’s actions.

I have read and loved Carol Shields’ previous work, and am sorry that she is no longer with us. If you have never read her before I urge you to try, and you would do worse than starting with this novel.