The Republic of Love by Carol Shields

“But Fay’s noticed something she’s never noticed before. That love is not, anywhere, taken seriously. It’s not respected. It’s the one thing in the world everyone wants — she’s convinced of that — but for some reason people are obliged to pretend that love is trifling and foolish.”

I’ve noticed that too. And I’m guilty of it. Not even in my dreams do I take love seriously. Last night, in one of my more bizarre recent dreams, I was playing matchmaker. I was setting up blind dates* by assigning people I knew, according to a chart I’d been given, to elements on the periodic table. Naturally, I assigned the person matched with Livermorium to the person matched with Uranium – as one does**. Eventually, I noticed a little note at the bottom saying that I (Rhenium) was not eligible to be matched with anyone. Ever. I was too dense. I then got a bit weepy at the podium where I was announcing the selections – thwarted by my very own nature. And then I woke up, realized I’d just compared my imaginary love life to the properties of a transition metal, and figured I would have no better opportunity to talk about The Republic of Love*** and intelligent romance. You see the connection and continuity, no?

“I think…that you’re far too intelligent a woman to be having a romance. Only deeply fluffy people have romances. Besides, wasn’t it you who told me that it was impossible to speak of love in the twentieth century except ironically?”

Fay McLeod is a folklorist specializing in mermaids and a deeply practical woman. She’s willing to date long term, but is never quite ready to marry. Tom Avery, on the other hand, is a magnet for damaged women who want to marry him. Thus he is thrice divorced. He works as a late night DJ, encountering all manner of callers on his show (baking soda to solve the environmental crisis, anyone?).Their social circles rarely cross. In fact, despite Winnipeg’s incestuously small dating pool (i.e. Peter – Fay’s ex – was married to Fritzi, the woman Tom’s ex-wife’s ex-husband left her for), they’ve yet to meet. Then one day, at a child’s birthday party, they do. The heavens open up, the stars align, and they fall in love – instantly and thoroughly.

Republic of Love Pairing

Set against the backdrop of Winnipeg, Canada, The Republic of Love is a charming romance without being too sentimental. The characters are so normal – they are average citizens who are moderately attractive, they live in average homes in an average city. It’s refreshing. There’s nothing extraordinary about them, which is perhaps what makes their love story special. Told in alternately view points, we get to know Tom and Fay – flaws and all. In an unusual move, Shields has them meet and fall in love in the middle of the book. In doing so, it’s easy to see why most fairy tales end when the characters fall in love. It can be dull to read about ease and comfort and unfettered, slow love, but not to worry, while the first half of the book is more enjoyable, the book as a whole still works. Shields has brilliant commentary on the desire and meaning of falling in love, why we do, why it lasts, or why it doesn’t.

“So this is where the years of maturity deliver us – to this needy, selfish, unwieldy wish to be somebody else’s first and primal other.”

The slow pace of the book will be off-putting to some, but I found the humor, intelligence, and irrational expectations of romance to be a lovely change of pace. It soothed even the sad, sad cynic in me, 4/5. Pair with soup, a popular choice among the characters in the novel. Because the food descriptions were vague, I’m choosing White Bean and Pasta Soup (because it’s meat free Monday).

Do you read books with romance (that don’t fall in the romance genre)? This book was an unusual choice for, but I’m glad I picked it up. Of course, if anyone wants to share strange dreams (and make me feel a little less weird), do tell. I can’t be the only one dreaming of the periodic table, right? (Don’t answer that.)

*I’ve only ever been on one blind date. It was many years ago and horribly awkward.
**The atomic symbols of those two elements are Lv and U. It was a dream, what can I say? I did share that I’m a prolific and vivid dreamer when I talked about Freud.
***I was offered a review copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion.

19 thoughts on “The Republic of Love by Carol Shields

  1. I like a love story when the characters are real, ordinary people, and the author has something intelligent to say about love. I love the quotes you picked out.

    If you dream like that all the time, you should consider writing them down for a rainy day.


    1. I do dream like that most of the time, although I usually don’t get so scientific (thankfully). Mostly my dreams are slightly twisted continuations of everyday life.

      It’s a nice change of pace when romance characters are relatable.


  2. “We humans are more complicated than animals, and we love through the imagination.”

    Somehow, George Moore’s words seemed to fit your post. I love dream exploration and yours are fun! I have vivid dreams but need to work on my retainment so I can remember them later. I know I had one recently where I was super excited for having just run a half-marathon. The running part was NOT in my dream, only the cool feeling of having done it.

    I adore Carol Shields even though I can sadly admit I’ve only read one of her books. I should just put all of them on my tbr. Maybe this one will be next.


    1. I love that quote!

      This book is not wholly consistent, but I liked it. I’ve heard Stone Diaries is better, but I haven’t read it (I don’t know if that’s the one you read).

      I usually remember my dreams – the stranger they are, the more vivid my recollection.


  3. I pretty much only read books with romance if they don’t fall into the romance genre. Although I suppose you could argue that chick lit is just a different style of romance… but they’re typically shelved with the “regular” books (at least at my library). Books you find in the actual romance section have just never appealed to me.

    As for dreams, I’ve been having more and more messed up ones lately, and I think it’s because of our new cat. Our other cat would sleep in our bed occasionally, but this one isn’t quite as accommodating about it, and I haven’t been sleeping great… which of course leads to crazier dreams. I can’t remember any specifics, it’s more just the feeling when I wake up, when it’s still fading from the fringes of my mind, and I just know I haven’t really been resting.


    1. I was offered this one in January and figured I would try to read it for Valentine’s Day. As I’m far to cynical for that, I read it the week after. It’s not my typical book, but I’m glad I read it. There’s something fun about regular people with regular lives and jobs that’s fun to read. I think I enjoy the plausibility of it.

      My favorite kind of dreams are the ones where I kind of wake up, realize I was enjoying my dream, and then go back to sleep and pick up where I left off and have a bit of control over the outcome (probably because I have so little control in real life).


    1. I don’t know that I would buy this one. Probably not…

      But I am glad I read it and if you see it at the library and have nothing going on – grab it!


  4. I’ve been meaning to read Carol Shields for so long. I love slow (or boring) books, lol. And I love romance that doesn’t take place in traditional romance novels. Great review!


    1. Thanks!

      The build-up is this book is fantastic and charming. The second half drags a little, as it should if it’s being realistic. New love usually runs pretty smoothly. I’d definitely recommend Shields writing (judging by the one book I’ve read). 😉


    1. Seriously – IMAGINE.

      (I do love a good time travel romance as much as the next person, but since the majority of us have zero chance of finding something like that – this is a close second. Because it could actually happen.)


    1. Doesn’t it look amazing. I would be so well-fed if I had someone to cook for me. Sadly, my time and dedication to cook is lacking.

      I want to see the movie. The book is a solid effort at telling a normal love story, which I really appreciate after the rise of paranormal and billionaire love stories.


  5. Awww, your dream made me a little sad but it’s also so awesome that you were dreaming about the periodic table of elements.

    This book sounds awesome. And I think I read a Jane Austen biography by this author and enjoyed it, somehow I never realized she did fiction as well. Sounds like a win to me.


    1. My dream is totally fictional. My IRL love life is normal and not to be determined by elemental pairings. I hope.

      This book – on the surface – is a little boring, but I really enjoyed reading a normal love story unfold.


  6. That is an awesome dream (in its specificity, not in its sad outcome for dream-you).

    I saw the movie for Republic of Love and remember liking aspects of it (I’m a fan of Bruce Greenwood), but being a little underwhelmed by it in the end. I think I started the book version, but am not sure why I didn’t finish it. I’ve read both Stone Diaries and Unless. I loved Stone Diaries. I read it when I was a college student, and thought it was brilliant at the time. I want to re-read it someday. On the other hand, I didn’t “get” Unless at all.


    1. It was pretty funny, I woke up thinking…”um, what?”.

      I haven’t seen the movie, but I want to now. I’ve heard that it’s not as good as the book (a common sentiment across the board), but I’ll be curious to see what they did with it.


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