With a foreword by Margaret Atwood
A celebration of love in its many guises, The Republic of Love recounts the heartfelt tale of two of life’s unlucky lovers: Fay, a folklorist whose passion for mermaids has kept her from focusing on any one man; and, right across the street, Tom, a popular radio talk-show host who’s been through three marriages and divorces in his search for true happiness.
Touching and ironic, The Republic of Love flies the flag for ordinary love between ordinary people.
‘Vividly fresh, glittering and spangled with fabulous surprises.’ —The Sunday Times
‘The Republic of Love marries a wide diversity of elements, mythical and modern, ironic and moving, exhilarating and melancholy … a love-surveying story that is enticingly seductive.’ —The Times Literary Supplement
This is a story about love and the human condition. Both Tom and Fay have had relationships, but neither of them have found true love. Not like Fay’s parents’ perfect marriage of 40 years.
Fay – a folklorist – has never been married – she is afraid to commit – though she has lived with three of her partners, including Peter, but she has had enough of him after three years. Tom – a late night DJ (I kept wanting to sing the Harry Chapin song ‘I am the morning DJ on WOLD’) – on the other hand, has been married and divorced three times. None of his marriages have lasted more than four years. Maybe, like Othello, he loved not wisely but too well. Definitely not wisely and not really well enough either.
They are both lonely, though neither would want to admit it. They each go home to an empty flat. Mostly the book is about their musings and self-reflection. At times it was rather self-indulgent. There was also a lot of cross-over between characters. Tom’s third wife is now married to someone else, whose second wife is the first wife of etc… I got a bit confused at times. Not really surprising.
I often forgot when it was written. It was published in 1996. At one point Fay is in Paris on a four week research trip for her book on mermaids and Tom, not wanting to ring her at her hotel, decides to write to her using an airmail letter – remember those flimsy blue stripey things? Apparently it took 10 days. This is pre-email or mobile phones. Fay replies by fax. Thank goodness for WhatsApp!
One thing worried me though. When Fay is planning a trip, she says to herself that she could get an early start on her packing. No one packs a whole week before going away, not unless they are insanely compulsive, she says. I must be insanely compulsive as I often start way more than a week before. Anyway, I digress.
Probably my only criticism is that the book is overlong by quite a long way which left me a little frustrated at times. It often says a lot about very little and I needed the writer to move the story forward. However, the beauty of the writing made up for it, but you need to be patient. Nowadays readers often want a book to be like a film, with non-stop action and instant gratification. With Republic of Love you need to savour the prose and relish the settings and the characters – even the minor ones. Ultimately, I really enjoyed it.
Many thanks to @annecater for inviting me to be part of #RandomThingsTours.
About the Author
Carol Shields (1935–2003) was born in the United States, and emigrated to Canada when she was 22. She is acclaimed for her empathetic and witty, yet penetrating insights into human nature. Her most famous novel The Stone Diaries was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, along with the Governor General’s Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Happenstance was praised as her tour de force, masterly combining two novels in one. The international bestseller Mary Swann was awarded with the Arthur Ellis Award for best Canadian mystery, while The Republic of Love was chosen as the first runner-up for the Guardian Fiction Prize. In 2020, the Carol Shields Prize for Fiction, a North American literary award dedicated to writing by women, was set up in her honour. Her work has been published in over 30 languages.