The Republic of Love, by Carol Shields. Pub 1992.
This is one of my Desert Island books, one that I have read and reread and never tire of. It seemed ideal for this book project, as it fulfills both the “book that was published when I was half the age I am now” (which seems apropos somehow) and “a book set in your hometown”. Unfortunately, I can only count it once, and as it is a book I’ve read before, I had to replace one other previous favourite on the list. Ah well.
This lovely story of Fay and Tom still speaks to me as romantic and true and remarkably prescient. Their romantic struggles – “The cycle of rupture and reconciliation.” – are visceral and familiar, especially with the hindsight of years. Shields is a wonderful author who can includes sufficient and precise detail in her story telling without getting bogged down, and who can portray characters – male and female, young and old – with clarity and empathy (her male characters are exceptional, IMHO – see also Larry’s Party). This novel has an almost epistolary presentation, moving back and forth between Tom and Fay like an exchange of letters, and providing revelation upon revelation for the characters and the reader in a way that feels natural and true.
Her prescience comes in statements like: “…measuring the will of society has become an impossibility now that pollsters have become our generals and the media our legislators.”; I don’t recall that state of play in 1992, but it is certainly even more true today. And the overall premise becomes more rich and true as the reader grows older: “Almost everyone gets a chance to say it – I love you. And to hear it said to them. Love is, after all, a republic, not a kingdom.”
A testament to the frequency with which I’ve read this book is the number and variety of bookmarks I found in it – 5 different boarding passes, including the one from 1995 when I received the book as a birthday present while visiting England for a good friend’s wedding. This book became emblematic of my favourite things: “A good book. A cuppa tea. Some snacks. It just doesn’t get any better than this.”
5. A book published when you were half the age you are now (1992).
8. A book by a female author.
9. A book that has been made into a film.
11. A book set in your hometown or province.