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The Republic of Love

The Republic of Love

2.8 9
by Carol Shields

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The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Stone Diaries gives us a love story for the ages: the tale of two polar opposites on a rocky road to romance

He’s a thrice-divorced late-night talk-show host. She’s an unmarried folklorist obsessed with mermaids. He lives for the present. She lives in the past. Both are leery


The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Stone Diaries gives us a love story for the ages: the tale of two polar opposites on a rocky road to romance

He’s a thrice-divorced late-night talk-show host. She’s an unmarried folklorist obsessed with mermaids. He lives for the present. She lives in the past. Both are leery of commitment. Neither has ever known lasting love. But when Tom Avery and Fay McLeod meet, it’s love—or at least lust—at first sight. And then fate starts to throw them curveballs.

Shifting between Tom and Fay’s stories—from their complicated histories through their present-day angst—The Republic of Love features delightful secondary characters in the lovers’ friends and families, including Fay’s seemingly happily married parents and her beloved godmother, Onion. As Tom and Fay forge bravely ahead into a romantic minefield, they make startling discoveries about each other and themselves. With her trademark wit and irony, and a deep compassion for her hero and heroine, Carol Shields gives us a celebration of love in all its guises.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A touching, elegantly funny, luscious piece of fiction.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Superb. . . . It takes courage for a serious literary novelist to toast love with the exuberance Shields does here.” —The Boston Globe

“A valentine for all seasons . . . delightful, funny, touching . . . romance for grown-ups of either sex.” —Toronto Sun

“Mythical and modern, ironic and moving, exhilarating and melancholy . . . a love-surveying story that is enticingly seductive.” —The Times Literary Supplement

Library Journal
Fay McLeod and Tom Avery are likable souls: kind to their parents, close to friends and co-workers, dedicated to their professions (she's a folklorist, he's a radio talk show host). But thus far both have been unlucky in love. Fay has never married; Tom has married and divorced rather too often. Participating on the periphery of lives of married friends has begun to pall. They finally meet, and it is a coup de foudre for both, but Fay is leaving that night for a month of mermaid research in Europe. Even when she returns, their affair is jeopardized by upheavals in others' lives. Can a woman of letters find happiness with a spokesman for the commonplace? Stay tuned! This is a most satisfying book, with dimensions of character, details of plot, and insights into contemporary life that sustain reader interest throughout. Highly recommended.--Marnie Webb, King Cty. Lib. System, Seattle

Product Details

Open Road Integrated Media LLC
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

If Fay McLod no longer loves Peter Knightly, there is still the question of whether she can live without him, live alone that is. She is thirty-five years old, after all, and should know something about compromise.

Toast, she says to herself, might be the test.

She is being whimsical, of course, which is one of the ways she protects herself, but she is partly serious too: can she bear to stand alone in her kitchen on a Saturday morning, or any morning, for that matter, and push down the lever of her ten-year-old General Electric black-and-chrome toaster and produce a single slice of breakfast toast? One only.

Other things she can do on her own. Traveling, for instance. Last summer, tracking down mermaid legends, she scoured half a dozen American libraries, California, Texas, Boston -- three happy weeks, traveling light, one suitcase, three changes of clothes, two pairs of shoes, that was it. She relished the ease of arranging single-seat tickets and the sight every night of a neatly made-up hotel room, avoiding, if she could, those pompous doubles with their giant puffed duvets and bulging headboards. "A very small room, please," she said to a succession of hotel clerks, interchangeable behind their crisp summer haircuts and narrow shirt collars and eager looks, and they'd complied, beaming as though she'd bent forward over the desk and smoothed their faces with the flat of her hand. Occasionally, vacationing families with young children called out greetings, but mostly she sat alone by pool sides or in hotel dining rooms with a book open by her plate. People looked her way and smiled, pitying or else envious, she wasn't sure which, and it didn't matter. She finds the bewilderment of travel rousing. Next summer she'll be off again, Europe this time, her mermaids again, a second research grant, more generous than the first. She departs at the end of July and will be gone for four intense weeks. Most of the arrangements have already been made -- and the thought that she will be on her own adds to, rather than subtracts from, her anticipation.

The solitude of living alone does worry her, a grim little visitation of concern -- mostly in the late afternoons, when the day feels vacuumed out, but she's not at the point of paralysis, not yet. She's capable, for instance, of going for a walk alone. The street she lives on, Grosvenor Avenue, is old, lined with trees and with Victorian houses, now mostly converted to rental apartments, or to condominiums, like the one she shares with Peter Knightly. The snow is almost gone, the sidewalks more or less clear of ice, and she likes on Saturday afternoons to put on a pair of jeans and her suede jacket and strike off, saying to herself: I, Fay McLeod, have every right to breathe this air, to take possession of this stretch of pavement. (Occasionally during these walks, the word "single" presents itself. She makes herself sigh it out, trying hard to keep her mouth from puckering -- single, singleness, singlehood, herself engaged in a single-ish stroll.) Blasts of wind smooth the sky to a glossy blue-rose, and the sun sits weak and yellow. She can set her own pace, that is her right after all, and fill up her lungs with the chilly air, stop if she likes at the Mozart Café for a cup of coffee, come home when she chooses. Along the way she smiles and nods at elderly couples or joggers or women dragging shopping bags, and each time this happens she feels her ties to the world yank and hold firm.

Sleeping alone is harder than going for a walk alone, oh yes, she admits it, but she's learned a few tricks of accommodation. And sex these days is everywhere, abundantly, dismayingly available.

As for the future, there will be other men. Or at least there probably will be others. This is one of the hopeful thoughts Fay has about herself. Before Peter Knightly, she lived for three years with a man called Nelo Merino, an investment consultant who was later transferred to Ottawa; she still feels swamped at times by her lost love for Nelo, who is married now, she's been told, and the father of three children. Before Nelo it was Willy Gifford (two years), who produced business training films and was a philosopher of sorts, a Cartesian he liked to call himself, whom she might have married if his political views had been less rigidly anchored and less tiresomely voiced. Between Willy and Nelo, and again between Nelo and Peter, there had been short periods of living on her own, and she honestly can't remember these intervals as being lonely. She has her job at the National Center for Folklore Studies, her friends, her family (mother, father, brother, sister, all of them living close by), her summer trips, and her book on mermaids that she hopes to finish sometime in the next year. She's always busy, too busy, and is always reminding herself of this fact, so that the notion of an empty apartment, even an empty bed, holds no more than a faint flush of alarm. And only when she thinks about it -- those late afternoons when her blood sugar dips and the overhead lights in her office go on. She'll manage, though. She knows she will.

It comes down, then, to just one brief moment, which is in-woven in her morning routine and located in that most familiar of rooms, the kitchen. Peter Knightly, with whom she has lived for three years now, will be making coffee, stooping in the manner of tall men and registering on his long face the kind of seriousness she finds silly but endearing. A temporary hood of domesticity and sexual ease hovers over them, sending down its safe blue even heat. He grinds his special French-roast beans and measures out water, and she, standing with her back to him, is making toast, dropping the seven-grain bread into twin slots, pushing the lever down and eliciting a satisfying double click as it first strikes the bottom of its long silvery grove and then locks into place. The heat rises gradually to her face. Her image bends on the satiny chrome -- a woman performing a simple but necessary task -- and inside the mechanism, down there where she can't see, separate molecules of bread are transcending their paleness and drifting toward gold. She imagines a pair of scented clouds, rectangular and contained, rising up and mingling with the coffee odors. The toastness of toast, its primary grainy essence. Peter is pulling cups from a cupboard, smooth white porcelain objects out of a cartoon, and heating a little jug of milk in the microwave.

Then the toast pops. It always takes her by surprise, those two identical slices bounding upward, perfectly browned and symbolically (it seems to her) aligned, and bringing every single morning a shock of happiness.

Meet the Author

Carol Shields (1935–2003) was born in Oak Park, Illinois. She studied at Hanover College, the University of Exeter in England, and the University of Ottawa. In 1957, she married Donald Shields and moved to Canada permanently. She taught at the University of Ottawa, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Manitoba, and served as chancellor of the University of Winnipeg. She wrote ten novels and three short story collections, in addition to poetry, plays, criticism, and a biography of Jane Austen. Her novel The Stone Diaries won the Pulitzer Prize, the Governor General’s Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award; it was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Shields was further recognized with a Canada Council Major Award, two Canadian National Magazine Awards, the Canadian Authors Association Award, and countless other prizes and honors. 

Brief Biography

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Date of Birth:
June 2, 1935
Date of Death:
July 16, 2003
Place of Birth:
Oak Park, Illinois
Place of Death:
Toronto, Canada
B.A., Hanover College, Indiana; M.A. (English), Ottawa University, 1975

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The Republic of Love 2.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A man, a woman and Winnipeg Carol Shields’ The Republic of Love is a beautifully written examination of that most desired, ecstatic, disappointing, confusing, inexplicable, wonderful, bizarre and devastating experience – romantic love. Tom Avery is a 40 year old man who has recently failed at his third marriage. He is a successful night-time DJ on a Winnipeg Radio Station whose audience is often the lovelorn, the lonely, and he smooths the night with chat and music, whilst ‘in real’ his life is rather falling apart. He still yearns to meet ‘the one’ Fay McLeod is 35, and is about to end her relationship with a man she no longer loves, with whom she has been living for 3 years. She has never married, but has a history of relationships with perfectly credible partners, but she can’t quite commit. She yearns to meet ‘the one’. She is a folklorist in Winnipeg; her speciality is mermaids – mythical creatures who lured the unwary to their deaths by drowning through their seductive siren songs, sending the listener mad. A fairly potent love metaphor. We know, as we follow Tom and Fay in alternate chapters, for almost half the book, that at some point they are going to meet and we expect the trajectory of a romance.  However, forget moons, Junes, clichés, as there are many ways in which this most enduring of fiction subject matter ‘the love story’ may play out. Particularly when the essence of love is written about by such a warm, tenderly but objectively clear and unsentimental writer as Shields. A writer who can slyly, wryly, - and let’s face it, even truthfully say the following, as expressed by one of her two central characters: ‘….love is not, anywhere, taken seriously. It’s not respected. It’s the one thing in the world everyone wants…..but for some reason people are obliged to pretend that love is trifling and foolish. Work is important. Living arrangements are important……Even minor shifts of faith or political intention are given a weight that is not accorded love. We turn our heads and pretend it’s not there, the thunderous passions that enter a life and alter its course. Love belongs in an amateur operetta, on the inside of a jokey greeting card…….It’s possible to speak ironically about romance, but no adult with any sense talks about love’s richness and transcendence, that it actually happens, that it’s happening right now, in the last years of our long, hard, lean, bitter and promiscuous century’ In this book (originally published in 1997) Shield’s other central motif is the interconnectedness of each to other, particularly in a moderately small city – so though Tom and Fay have actually been living in the same area of the city for some years, they have never met. On a ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ map they have several possible routes of finally meeting – Shields draws out tangled, myriad points of connection between different groups and subgroups of people in the city. So Winnipeg itself is a major player in her story his was so well crafted; her characters (all) individual, rounded, real. It’s absolutely obvious what the plot is, that is predictable – satisfyingly so, but it is the precision of the journey, Shields’ warmth, humour and accuracy, her ordinary but unique characters, and her careful examination of the day to day mystery of love itself, made this a hugely enjoyable read. And, …to the title – Kingdoms imply rank and status, Republics (in theory) RepResent the Will of The People. The Republic is in theory something freely chosen and willed by the majority. However, as we know, Republics may be forced upon the populace, the power may not be vested in the people. Republics may come into being through force and violence, and the people have been unwillingly subdued and subjugated. Shields has given us a title which contains many meanings and layers, some of them contradictory, with meanings both overt and covert I was delighted to be offered this as an ARC by Open Road Media, who continue to produce excellent ebook versions of fine writing originally published within the last 50 years. I generally find myself fully appreciating the chance to re-read gems from recent literature, or discover fine writing which passed me by.  This book was also turned into a RomCom movie, which i discovered whilst trying to find the visuals with which to adorn this post. This exists in its entirety on YouTube. I have no idea whether it is a worthy adjunct to the book or not, but i will for sure attempt it! Shields' writing certainly holds humour within itself, and I have categorised the book both as Romance and Lighter Hearted Reads - but primarily she falls, to my readerly eye, firmly into the lit-fic territory. Rom-Com if you like - but in the light, barbed, nuanced way of Jane Austen. And the time of her writing inevitably pushes this into the darker, post-Freudian, world.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Both Faye and Tom have never been able to understand what it is they really wanted out of life. There was always something missing, that is until they found one another. Then they find that being commited is something they have yet to learn. I think its a valuable lesson in life to be able to understand that life itself is a commitment.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Its ok my nook is messing up
BookClubJunkieNY More than 1 year ago
Very slow and predictable. Didn't care for the characters very much or the writing style. This was read by our book club and not one of us enjoyed the book; some didn't even finish it. BookClubJunkieNY
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Angie_Lisle More than 1 year ago
I was invited to read a free copy of this book, in exchange for a review, via NetGalley. I've read Shields before and wasn't overly fond of The Stone Diaries. This book confirmed what I previously thought. The prose is wonderfully written and I enjoy how Shields delivers details. What I don't like is the plot. The first 150-pages, nothing more than character development, bored me senseless and, if I hadn't been asked for a review, I would've given up. The two love interests finally meet on page 167. Then, just as the story begins, the book ends. Ironically, the best review for this book is a quote lifted from the book itself: "Just a love story, people say about a book they happen to be reading, to be caught reading."
pandabearCM More than 1 year ago
I did not particularly care for this book and I have liked some of Carol Shields other books. The book has love at first sight-I think that is corny and I expected more of Carol Shields. While the book has some humor, there is not much plot and what plot there is, is highly predictable.  It takes 150 pages  into the book for the love story to start. There are some short sketches that are funny but I thought the book lacked focus and direction.   I received a free copy from Netgalley  in exchange for an honest review