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Up at the end of lonely streetUnlessCarol ShieldsFourth Estate 1699 pp224Carol Shields has always been a beguiling writer Shed have you think her concerns were little affairs of the heart the minor compromises women make with love the ways in which her characters might hold on to contentment or find hope and satisfaction in the everyday But at the root of her fiction beneath the often well-kempt surfaces of the lives she describes there is as much unflinching emotional truth as in the books of any of her flashier more overtly ambitious - male - contemporariesThe narrator of Unless is just the kind of writer Shields sometimes finds herself mistaken for Reta Winters ne Summers has hopes to publish the sort of novels that can be read while seated in an Ikea wicker chair with the sun falling on the pages as faintly and evenly as human breathShes written one already My Thyme is Up and is at work on a sequel In between times she works as a translator from the French of the memoirs of Dr Danielle Westerman poet essayist feminist survivor holder of 27 honorary degrees A writer she suggests whose manner was to take the reader by surprise In the middle of a flattened rambling paragraph deceived by warm stretches of reflection you came upon hard cartilage Westerman much loved has never married Winters has a husband who is losing his hair nicely and three teenage daughtersShields seems to want to use the polarities of this pairing to get a compass on her own work Written while she has been undergoing treatment for cancer there is a sense in this novel of taking stock of exploring what fiction and explicitly fiction written by women might be capable ofShieldss last book was a critical appreciation of Jane Austen and by using the interior life here of a writer writing about a writer she develops similarly a prescriptive tone at times inquiring into
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