BOOK PROFILE
Unless

Unless

Published by Vintage Canada

Defended by Lorne Cardinal


Most people want to be happy. But how many have what it takes to be good? Can self-realization and morality share the same space in our lives? Or can we only have one and not the other? These are the questions that underlie Carol Shields's 2002 profoundly moving novel Unless, which explores the "problem of goodness" and how it squares with the very human desire for happiness.

Reta Winters is going through a period of "great unhappiness." The successful writer, wife and mother appears to have every gift life can offer, and yet, she's miserable, consumed utterly by the sudden change in her 19-year-old daughter, Norah.

Without warning, the pretty, confident young university student has chucked it all — school, love, her family — for a life on the streets. Norah now spends her nights in a homeless shelter, and her days plunked on a street corner in downtown Toronto. Around her neck hangs a sign that reads "goodness." She collects money from strangers, which she then distributes to the homeless of Toronto. The question that haunts her family: Why?

For Reta, the answer to that question requires a great deal of introspection. To make sense of Norah's seemingly irrational behaviour, she must also examine the realities of her own experience. The struggle to answer the conflict between goodness and happiness may not provide a perfect resolution, but it goes a long way toward achieving the greater gifts of wisdom, increased compassion and unconditional love.

Unless won B.C.'s Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and was a finalist for a clutch of major awards, both nationally and internationally, including the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Governor General's Award, the Man Booker Prize and the Orange Prize.



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