Carol Shields' tender, funny and wonderfully insightful portrait of two sisters struggling to rediscover themselves amidst the perplexing swirl of family life. Judith is a biographer whose life is subsumed by others: a husband who keeps secret balls of wool in a bottom drawer, two children who share their deepest thoughts only with strangers, and the Victorian novelist who is her subject. Her sister Charleen is a single mother and lapsed poet with a marvellously uncomplicated son, Seth. As Judith analyses the minutiae of past lives while striving to support those of the present, Charleen battles her own past ghosts and wonders desperately what her life has been about. When the sisters are reunited for their mother's wedding, Seth disappears in a turn of events that reveals some shocking truths. Judith's struggle to manage the perplexing swirl of her family life is wonderfully balanced with Charleen's piercing gift of observation in this tender, funny and insightful portrait of two sisters learning to come to terms with the lives they have chosen.
Carol Shields has a clutch of prestigious awards to her name, including the Pulitzer and Orange Prizes and two Booker nominations. Her prose style has earned accolades for its spare beauty and elegance, her startling imagery, her uncanny ability to probe the most sacred depths of the human psyche with humanity and affectionate irony. Duet brings together her first two novels, originally published in the 1970s, yet her maturity and compassion are as evident here as in her later works. Her fascination is with the inner turmoil experienced by her characters; the interaction of their lives; the threads of chance which draw people together and the frightening ease with which those bonds can be snapped. Duet is the story of three women - Judith, her sister Charleen and their mother, Mrs McNinn, who bestrides the whole book like a cantankerous colossus, embittered and apparently devoid of affection for her offspring. Although the stories can be read separately, the book works superbly well when they are considered together. Shields herself acknowledges the many common strands which link the two books, but the main effect of this joint edition is to allow the character of Mrs McNinn to have her own voice. We are able to judge her for ourselves because Shields gives us the full picture, not just a partial vision slanted through the perspective of one daughter or the other. Judith appears to have it all - a loving husband, two considerate children and a fulfilling career as a biographer. But Judith is busy discovering secrets, secrets which she is scared to investigate. Her husband's behaviour becomes increasingly bizarre, her daughter Meredith talks in riddles, and her son Richard keeps his own counsel about the mysterious letters he receives from England. Judith feels her grasp on the family reins is slipping, and she resents feeling out of control. As she picks remorselessly over her memories, the figure of her mother looms large. Charleen is a single mother, a poet with an uninspiring, badly paid job on a botanical magazine, and an absentee husband who never calls but just sends the maintenance cheque every month. She adores her son Sean, and her elegant lover Eugene, and is rather in awe of her elegant sister. The two arrange to meet for their mother's wedding - but there is trouble brewing, and all three women will be forced to look at themselves in a different light before Mrs McNinn ties the knot for a second time. (Kirkus UK)
Audience: Tertiary; University or College
Number Of Pages: 416
Published: 4th August 2003
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Dimensions (cm): 13.4 x 19.3 x 2.6
Weight (kg): 0.28