Small Ceremonies

Carol Shields' first novel tells the story of a year in the life of Judith Gill, a biographer who desperately wants to write fiction. When she joins her academic husband on sabbatical in Birmingham, she finds on the shelves of their rented flat the notes of a failed novelist. With considerable guilt, Judith decides to plagiarize one of the ideas. Frustrated by the creative process, Judith attends writing classes and later discovers that her tutor, suffering from writer's block, has ripped off 'her' idea. Shields focuses her sharp gaze on the small ceremonies of life in this novel of rare intelligence and wit.

Small Ceremonies and The Box Garden were published together as Duet in the UK in 2003.

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        Click here to order. achievement, a novel of ideas that also moves us."
- Observer (London)

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Judith Gill
a woman for today
Age: not quite ready to face forty
Marital Status: married (husband professor)
Children: girl and boy
Address: suburbia with mortgage
Occupation: writer - or is it?
Destination: unknown

In Judith Gill Carol Shields has created someone to whom we can all relate. Judith has lost the absolute certainty of youth and not yet acquired the experience that is the strength of age. While she can reflect on a secure and ordered past she looks with concern at the world and its uncertain future. But large issues must remain, guiltily, at the back of her mind while she copes with her own small world where coffee klatches, academic rivalries, the cocktail round, the unfathomable behaviour of children (and upon occasions, husband) seem to be the sole reason for her existence. And for Judith Gill, writer, a person with opinions and desires of her own, this is not where it's at.
— From the book cover of the 1978 edition

Superb bitchiness"
- Financial Post

Witty and intelligent."
- Macleans

A large talent.....a writer to watch.

- Globe and Mail


From Publishers Weekly
On the surface, there's nothing about Judith Gill that would recommend her as an ideal protagonist. She's ordinary: wife of a rather remote academic, mother of adolescents she no longer really knows, biographer of arcane subjects. But Shields's gift is in making the ordinary compelling. What's surprising in this, her first novel originally published in 1976 and released in the U.S. for the first time, are the almost playful touches, which stand in contrast to the relatively placid rhythm of her Pulitzer Prize-winning The Stone Diaries. Just when Small Ceremonies begins to look like a quiet little story about a middle-class woman in an anonymous Canadian city, Shields tosses in a twist that forces the reader to look at Judith in a new light. It's Shields's repeated juxtaposition of orderliness and spontaneity, the mundane with the unexpected, that makes Judith an appealing subject-though she wouldn't see herself that way. The consummate biographer, Judith focuses more on others than on herself. And while Shields doesn't moralize in this slight novel, if there is a message, it is this: we may think we know the people who fill our lives, but we really only know parts of them-and we're fooling ourselves to think otherwise.

A comic dance that affords space for the serious, ''Small Ceremonies'' presents life's essential isolation as cause not for gloom but for celebration."     (Click here to read entire review.)
- Claire Messud, New York Times

Shields is excellent at capturing the 'small ceremonies', the special languages, of friendship and marriage."
- Felicity James, The Oxonian Review of Books

Wife, mother, and biographer, Judith Gill finds her own life overshadowed by her need to observe and understand, becoming a woman whose world is shaped by the actions of others, until she discovers her own role as a translator and celebrant of life's small ceremonies."

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