The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
Like a lot of folks at the start of lockdown, I took part in book swaps with neighbours. People who were shielding were desperate for books to read, especially with the libraries and bookshops closed. They were also kind enough to share some of their favourite novels with me. Which is how I came to read a novelist I've never read before, Carol Shields and her Pulitzer prize winning novel The Stone Diaries.
I'll be honest, this is not the usual sort of book that I tend to read and I'm in a bit of a strange quandary because I'm not sure how I feel about the novel. I can tell you that I did devour it in about 2 days and could not put it down, but if you ask me if I enjoyed it, I just don't know. Let's explore shall we?
The Stone Diaries follows the life of Daisy Goodwill Flett, who is born in tragic circumstances in 1905. Chapter headings to the book include; Birth, Marriage, Love, Work and Death and there is a beautiful poem at the start of the novel detailing that people's lives rarely turn out as they imagine. This is certainly true for Daisy. As we follow her life through these milestones, it becomes quickly apparent that Daisy is someone who life happens around, without her realising. Very rarely does she take a bold step, or follow an ambition, but instead ambles and lets life happen to her.
She marries a drunk, who dies on her honeymoon, she then marries a much older, steady and some might say dull man. Her children are born and live. The only time that we ever see any passion or emotion is when she is writing her gardening column for the local newspaper.
In essence, it is a very bleak book about a woman going through the motions. Daisy is keen not to offend and stoically performs her duty right until the very end. Even when she is close to death, she politely accepts a Priest's ministrations, even when she is desperately tired and keen to sleep.
Now if I haven't depressed you already, let me explain my dilemma. This book has really stayed with me, days after finishing. Her family are at times eccentric and funny. Her father builds a stone monument to Daisy's mother, which becomes a tourist attraction. We learn about the family's sex lives in humorous detail. Her 2 best friends are great, one has many lovers all over the world and the other assumes the mantle of a 'trophy wife' and quickly throws it off when her husband has an affair. But in the middle of all this is Daisy passing through life like a train with its blinds down.
The writing is truly beautiful. Daisy has a breakdown and her entire collection of family and friends give an opinion as to the cause, each monologue providing more insight into the family and friends and making Daisy seem even more confusing.
I can entirely see why the novel won the Pulitzer, it is breathtakingly well written, but so sad. It is a bleak read and if I'm honest I'm not sure I would be rushing out to buy another Carol Shields. But Daisy and her life have stayed with me and I'm pleased I read it.