The Republic of Love

Complications beset two shell-shocked veterans of the wars of the heart - Fay, a folklorist whose passion for mermaids has kept her from focusing on any one man. And right across the street there’s Tom, a popular radio talk-show host who has focused a little too intently, having married and divorced three times. Only Carol Shields could describe so adroitly this couple who fall in love as thoroughly and satisfyingly as any Victorian couple, and the modern complications that beset them in this touching and ironic book.

The Republic of Love was made into a movie of the same name by Deepa Mehta in 2004.

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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."
- Boston Globe

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A novel that's so engrossing it makes you want to retire to a squashy sofa until you reach the end. Vividly fresh...glittering and spangled with fabulous surprises."
- 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."
- Times Literary Supplement

The Republic of Love is a hymn to the pleasures and pains, the raptures even of an unspectacular life. Fay discovers that happiness is "a kind of by-product of existence, and not an end in itself". This piece of knowledge saves her, Shields suggests, from the watery, ambiguous yearning of the mermaid, "plaintive, coy", wordlessly calling out to no one. A simple message, but Shields delivers it with so much grace and so little pretension, that it is impossible not to be enchanted by her voice. She sings with the charm of a true siren. In her hands, we believe, anything can happen."
- Guardian


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.

- Review by Marnie Webb, King City Library System, Seattle, Library Journal

Interview with Carol Shields
        Recorded in Vancouver, 1992 (transcribed from audio tape)

INT: Carol Shields joins me now and let's hear her read from her new book, The Republic of Love.
CS: Downtown Winnipeg has its city share of graffiti-splattered back alleys, but is mostly made up of wide, formal boulevards lined with handsome stone buildings hideously exposed despite repeated attempts at landscaping. This is a place with a short, tough history and a pug-faced name. Elsewhere people blink when you say where you're from and half the time they don't know where it is. An American woman Tom met in San Diego on his last vacation there dug her fingernails into his bare shoulder and said, "God I don't believe it. You mean to tell me you live north of North Dakota?" Right now early June is the worst time of the year. Worst because he forgets from summer to summer that it's really going to happen. Just when the trees have finally filled out their crowns with great glossy leaves the cankerworms go on the march. The larvae make their way up the tree trunks and then the munching begins. It takes no more than two days to transform an avenue of foliage into ragged lace and ten days to strip the trees bare. At night there's a steady drizzling rain which is not rain at all but the continuously falling excrement of billions of cankerworms chewing and digesting. The streets and sidewalks are covered with slippery syrup, the air turns putrid. The worms grown fat spin themselves long, sticky threads and on these they descend like acrobats to the ground where they lay their eggs for the following year. ...

...a valentine for all seasons, a delightful, funny, touching celebration of romance for grown-ups of either sex."
- Toronto Sun

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