Sunday, April 12, 2009

BOOK: A Celibate Season by Carol Shields and Blanche Howard

A Celibate Season by Carol Shields and Blanche Howard, 240 pages

themed reading challenge: epistolary

Nice mixing up of the gender roles and identities in this novel of letters between Chas and Jock, a long married couple. The recession (the last one, not this one, but how timely!) has forced Chas from his architecture job in Vancouver and his wife, Jock into a legal position on a Royal Commission in Ottawa. So she's got the high powered job and is away from home, and he is dealing with the furnace and the neighbours and the teens at home.

They decide to write letters to stay in contact, along with some phone calls and visits, but their evolving relationship is described by what they say, and what they don't say. It's easy to see how their changing roles and new experiences lead to misunderstandings, but they are helpless to do much about it, living across the country from each other. Lots a great Canadiana, including Winnipeg, the weather, politics in Ottawa, bilingualism, and the Royal Commission on Female Poverty. Lots of great symmetry within the stories and the characters, often they were sending similar letters to each other the same day. I wish I hadn't read the Introduction by Blanche Howard first, as she mentions several key plot points, so if you don't like to know big details, save that for after you finish the book.

Well written novel, with interesting characters and fast moving story. Two Canadian authors - Carol Shields and Blanche Howard, collaborated together which adds to the letter writing between two people aspect. For readers looking for a quick, high interest read for the Dewey Read-a-Thon, you might consider adding this one to your list.


  1. I own this one and have been meaning to read it. I love Shields!

    Glad you liked it -- great review!!

  2. What a great review - I'm adding this to my wish list!

  3. I totally forgot about this book. I have read most of Carol Shields books, but seem to have stalled on finishing! I will have to remedy that!

  4. The concept of the books sounds really interesting. I love the whole idea of role reversal with the whole traditional man brings home the bacon wifey fries it up in the pan...great review!!

  5. 3m - I haven't read much Shields, this was just my 2nd. It's very quick to read.

    carrie - thanks, hope you like it

    kailana - I like to be complete like that too, and you should read this one to be a complete Shields reader!

    staci - it was neat to see how quicky they fell into each other's roles, and how difficult they found it for someone else to take their role. Having them write letters to each other made the story move along so quickly.


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