The Stone Diaries


361 pages
ISBN 0-394-22362-4
DDC C813'.54




Reviewed by Sarah Robertson

Sarah Robertson is associate editor of the Canadian Book Review Annual.


Spanning most of the 20th century, this beautifully realized novel is
part autobiography, part social history. At its centre is Daisy
Goodwill, an unremarkable woman who in her declining years begins an
uncharacteristic inward journey, one fuelled by a single question:
“What is the story of a life?”

Shields’s chronicle of Daisy’s life and times exquisitely blends
Victorian and postmodernist sensibilities, sumptuous detail and
existential angst. There are the external trappings of a conventional
autobiography—a family tree, a photo section, and reassuringly solid
chapter titles (“Birth, Childhood,” “Marriage,” etc.). But the
autobiographical subject, a woman with “a talent for
self-obliteration,” is elusive (her absence from the family photo
album is pointed).

An unreliable narrator par excellence, Daisy sees her life as an
“assemblage of dark voids and unbridgable gaps.” The world she
inhabits is riddled with disquieting juxtapositions—rigid social
conventions and freakish deaths. One character is crushed to death when
a vending machine overturns. Or is he? Daisy as storyteller demonstrates
a “startling ability to draft alternate versions” of life. At the
heart of her own is a “terrifying inauthenticity” that she struggles
to transcend: whether or not she succeeds is left to the reader of this
thoroughly engaging book to decide.

The Stone Diaries won the 1993 Governor General’s Award for fiction.


Shields, Carol., “The Stone Diaries,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 19, 2024,