editor's choice




Eating was as close to heaven as my mother ever came … And almost as heavenly as the eating was the making – how she gloried in it. Every last body on this earth has a particular notion of paradise, and this was hers, standing in the murderously hot back kitchen of her own house, concocting and contriving … a clean wooden spoon in hand.”


There are certain novels that lodge themselves in our brains, refusing to be shaken loose. It may be the story, the writing, the landscape that grips us, something anyway that makes these tomes more than just great reads. Carol Shields’ The Stone Diaries is one such book for me. Originally published in 1993, it won Shields the Pulitzer Prize, among other accolades, catapulting her into literary celebrity. This month sees it reissued in paperback by World Editions, the first of four of the author’s works, the others released in 2021. How wonderful!

Celebrating the sheer extraordinariness of the ordinary, The Stone Diaries follows the life of one woman, protagonist Daisy Goodwill Flett, over the course of the twentieth century, from her birth, in 1905, to her death, in 1995. It’s a wonderful examination of the minutiae of a ‘normal’ woman’s world and stands as one of the finest examples of literature honouring the everyday life of women, doing everyday tasks that are often dismissed, not just by men, but by society at large.

It’s an acknowledgement of the sheer pleasures of the seemingly mundane, like making a Malvern pudding for oneself, not for one’s husband – of the losses and hardships that we endure. As Shields herself said, it’s about ‘what it’s meant to be a woman in this century’, about making life ‘mean something’ through the choices we make on a day-to-day level.

It was important to Shields that her books touch on real experience and one of the things that makes this book so interesting is it could be taken as memoir – it has a family tree and grainy black-and-white photos, even though it is a work of fiction.

Shields said she wanted people to read her books and engage, to think, ‘Aha, I feel like that too.’ And we do. It’s impossible to read The Stone Diaries and not think at some point, ‘Ah, yes, that’s right, that’s true. That’s who we are as women. That’s what we do.’

Shields died of breast cancer in 2003, but her legacy lives on. In 2020, the Carol Shields prize for fiction was announced. Launching in 2022, it celebrates literature par excellence by female and non-binary writers in North America. It’s a fitting tribute to a woman who looked at writing as an act of redemption and observed that she needed the ‘companionship, the example, of other women who are writing’ in order to write away ‘the invisibility of women’s lives’.

The Stone Diaries is a fine example of Shields’ skill at doing exactly just that. It’s writing simply at its very best. If you haven’t read it, please do. If you have, revisit it. Please.


The Stone Diaries | Carol Shields | World Editions | paperback | £9.99 | December 2020

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Forthcoming Carol Shields’ titles published by World Editions:

The Republic of Love 02/21 | Happenstance 05/21 | Mary Swann 08/21



Acknowledgements: Book text quoted, copyright © Carol Shields 1993. This review is published as part of the virtual book tour. Many thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours, as always and thanks to the publisher for sending us a review copy. All opinions are our own. All rights reserved. Please check out the other wonderful reviewers on this tour and please share them.

Also of interest:Alice Walker and the power of poetry‘; ‘By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept’; ‘Sylvia Plath on poetry‘; ‘WB Yeats, “The Journey of the Magi“‘; ‘Yvonne Battle-Fenton’s Remembered‘; ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised‘; ‘We should all be feminists‘; The not-so-invisible woman: 150 greats in their own words’; ‘How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original “Penguin Ten”‘; Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday – Romek Marber for Penguin Crime (book covers we love).

This review is copyright © 2020 by The Literary Shed. All rights are reserved. All opinions expressed are our own. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please contact us for permission and provide the necessary credit. Thank you so much. We welcome your feedback.



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