Carol Shields' first novel
tells the story of a year in the life of Judith Gill, a
biographer who desperately wants to write fiction. When
she joins her academic husband on sabbatical in Birmingham,
she finds on the shelves of their rented flat the notes
of a failed novelist. With considerable guilt, Judith decides
to plagiarize one of the ideas. Frustrated by the creative
process, Judith attends writing classes and later discovers
that her tutor, suffering from writer's block, has ripped
off 'her' idea. Shields focuses her sharp gaze on the small
ceremonies of life in this novel of rare intelligence and
Small Ceremonies and The Box
Garden were published together as Duet
in the UK in 2003.
here to order.
...an achievement, a novel of ideas
that also moves us."
- Observer (London)
here to read excerpt.
a woman for today
Age: not quite ready to face forty
Marital Status: married (husband professor)
Children: girl and boy
Address: suburbia with mortgage
Occupation: writer - or is it?
In Judith Gill Carol Shields
has created someone to whom we can all relate. Judith
has lost the absolute certainty of youth and not yet
acquired the experience that is the strength of age.
While she can reflect on a secure and ordered past
she looks with concern at the world and its uncertain
future. But large issues must remain, guiltily, at
the back of her mind while she copes with her own
small world where coffee klatches, academic rivalries,
the cocktail round, the unfathomable behaviour of
children (and upon occasions, husband) seem to be
the sole reason for her existence. And for Judith
Gill, writer, a person with opinions and desires of
her own, this is not where it's at.
From the book cover of the 1978 edition
Witty and intelligent."
A large talent.....a writer to watch.
- Globe and
From Publishers Weekly
On the surface, there's nothing about Judith Gill
that would recommend her as an ideal protagonist. She's
ordinary: wife of a rather remote academic, mother of
adolescents she no longer really knows, biographer of
arcane subjects. But Shields's gift is in making the ordinary
compelling. What's surprising in this, her first novel
originally published in 1976 and released in the U.S.
for the first time, are the almost playful touches, which
stand in contrast to the relatively placid rhythm of her
Pulitzer Prize-winning The Stone Diaries. Just
when Small Ceremonies begins to look like a quiet
little story about a middle-class woman in an anonymous
Canadian city, Shields tosses in a twist that forces the
reader to look at Judith in a new light. It's Shields's
repeated juxtaposition of orderliness and spontaneity,
the mundane with the unexpected, that makes Judith an
appealing subject-though she wouldn't see herself that
way. The consummate biographer, Judith focuses more on
others than on herself. And while Shields doesn't moralize
in this slight novel, if there is a message, it is this:
we may think we know the people who fill our lives, but
we really only know parts of them-and we're fooling ourselves
to think otherwise.
A comic dance that affords space
for the serious, ''Small Ceremonies'' presents life's
essential isolation as cause not for gloom but for
to read entire review.)
Claire Messud, New York Times
Shields is excellent at capturing
the 'small ceremonies', the special languages, of friendship
James, The Oxonian Review of Books
Wife, mother, and biographer,
Judith Gill finds her own life overshadowed by her
need to observe and understand, becoming a woman whose
world is shaped by the actions of others, until she
discovers her own role as a translator and celebrant
of life's small ceremonies."