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Swann (1996)

Swann (1996)
3.7 of 5 Votes: 2
0679307877 (ISBN13: 9780679307877)
vintage canada
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Swann (1996)
Swann (1996)

About book: As someone who's read quite a bit of Shields, I've noticed in the past that she has an early nonfiction work called Susanna Moodie: Voice And Vision. I know nothing else of Moodie (except that she's also been an influence on Margaret Atwood) but when I started this, I had to wonder if any hoopla surrounding the recognition of Moodie in Canada informed this work. And in turn I also wondered if the writing of this led to Shields' The Stone Diaries a few years later. I would have to reread the latter to be sure, but I think it's safe to say Mary Swann and The Stone Diaries are certainly her two most ambitious novels.I'm not sure why this novel isn't more well known. Perhaps because it is theme-driven: characters and plot are secondary, though the fourth section is luminous in its depiction of a long marriage. Each section has its own style and point-of-view, the third narrated by an unnamed omniscient entity that sometimes uses the second-person as if the reader is perhaps being given a guided tour. The back of my edition states that the novel won an award for "crime writing" and yet the perpetrator of the obvious crime -- the disappearance of Mary Swann's artifacts -- is easily guessed at by the time the first object goes missing, that crime being the least of what this novel is. Other, perhaps unprosecutable, 'crimes' fuel this novel, a layered challenge to our perceptions about art and in what it has to say about art as a commodity, how it is made and shaped, and who owns it. Its humor is sly and not always complimentary to the literary world. While the last section was my least favorite, its ending is perfect.

This novel takes a satirical look at academia and its deconstruction of art through criticism and research resulting in the reconstruction of the art in the image of the critics. The first four sections are essentially character studies of the four main characters that could stand alone and yet are effectively intertwined with the other main characters. I love how Carol Shields' writing just flows effortlessly and how she can make the most ordinary characters and situations interesting and relatable. In the fourth section, one of the characters describes a friend as sniffing "a kind of godly oxygen that binds one human being to the next and shortens the distance we must travel to discover that our most private perceptions are universally felt." That is exactly what Carol Shields does with her writing! The only negative of the book was the last section which is written as a screenplay. I did not enjoy reading that section as it is all dialogue and stage/directorial directions and Shields' ability with prose is nonexistent. The directorial notes tell you what the characters should be feeling as opposed to showing you. I also did not enjoy the ending as (SPOILER ALERT) I felt the motives behind the supposed collaboration between Brownie and Lang weren't really clear to me.
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Kate S
I like Carol Shields. I like the characters she creates. I enjoy the positions in which she puts said characters. I like her use of narrative blended with letter writing, journals and movie script. The story of Mary Swann as it comes out through 4 main Swann-ites is engaging. The researchers of Mary Swann are mostly likeable and each has his or her own flaws. I especially liked the character of Rose. I found there to be many layers to this story and can imagine discussing it on a variety of fronts.
Maria Stevenson
When Margaret Atwood calls it "One of the best novels I've read" you just know it's going to be good. Carol Shields...that American-born gem of Canadian Literature, who left us too soon (she was in her sixties when she passed away from cancer)is such a powerhouse, genius, magician of a writer that I don't even really feel like writing a review, or like writing at all: you know how it is when you feel so humbled-to-hackdom by someone's talent? Someone's gift? Someone's passion that turned to tale
Theryn Fleming
Swann (sometimes titled Swann: A Mystery) is about farmwife Mary Swann and how she is "discovered" and turned into a minor poet worthy of academic analysis. Despite the sometimes-subtitle, Swann is more wry and cutting than mysterious. (There is a mystery, but it's a rather transparent one.) Although it's a novel, it's really a critique of the literary and academic publishing worlds. The book is also kind of experimental—each section is told in a different way. The first section is most novelistic; the final section is written like it's a screenplay. I think the execution may turn people off, but I think the choices Shields made were very deliberate and it's interesting to consider why she made them.
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