Unless was art. From the first chapter, this simple, yet complex tale struck me on an artistic level. It fully deserves every award and accolade it has ever received. I don't even know if I can fully describe how much I loved it. Carol Shields' Unless is definitely one of my new favourite books. As I was reading it, I felt it happening, felt myself falling more and more into the story, the characters and the craft of the words. I felt myself fearing the end, fearing the reveal as to what caused Norah's change. Ends can make or break a book for me, but this ending was a bit surprising, but also sort of what I had hoped it what be. I say only a bit surprising, because if I think back to some of the things Reta talked about with her friends, her arc and the story's arc throughout the novel, it is not that surprising. I feel like subtle literary hints were dropped. Of course, they were expertly weaved into the story.
Part of me feels like, why didn't I read Unless years ago? I've only had this copy for about a year (that's not that long compared to some of the unread books I own), but it was published in 2002 and it's by a great Canadian author. I feel like maybe I aught to have read it when I first read The Handmaid's Tale. The other part of me, the maternal part I think, is glad I read it now. I connected with Reta. Though my children are much younger, I also struggle with finding stories, whether books, film or television, with strong female representation. Not just for my daughter, but for my son too. (I'm going to stop there before I get too political and I'll stick with Reta's story.) The letters that she writes grow more and more scathing. I really liked when she said, you couldn't include Virginia Woolf? (I'm paraphrasing.) But she was right and she was connecting it with trying to figure out what happened to Norah.
There's so much in Unless. Motherhood, marriage, women, friendship, mentorship, all ran throughout the story. I found myself questioning Reta's relationship with Danielle Westerman. I don't know if I liked her. Though I always tried to remember that she was 85 and had been used to a certain dynamic with Reta. Now there was a change. Not just with Reta's home life, but Reta had other projects she was working on too. I felt that Danielle expected Reta's feelings to always be like hers, and they weren't. I reminded me of a bit of a parent-child relationship, where you expect your adult child to be more like you than they actually are, then are surprised. Reta's editor was driving me a bit nuts too. He just wouldn't let her talk, she couldn't finish a sentence. All the changes he wanted to make were infuriating. Unless invoked strong emotions with every chapter. It was a great, consuming read. There are so many more aspects I could explore and I look forward to finding more in future readings.