Liminal Spaces: The Double Art of Carol Shields
Tolan, Fiona, British Journal of Canadian Studies
Alex Ramon, Liminal Spaces: The Double Art of Carol Shields (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008), 196pp. Cased. £34.99. ISBN 978-1-4438-0012-9.
With Liminal Spaces, Alex Ramon provides a careful and insightful study of Shields's writing, spanning the length and breadth of her canon. The central premise - that Shields's 'liminal' art combines realist humanism with postmodern experimental techniques - neatly sidesteps the identified trap of either celebrating or denigrating Shields for the 'delicate domesticity' of her writing, and depicts instead a writer whose work is 'more challenging, various and equivocal, than is often acknowledged' (p. 4). The book is engagingly written, with a clear purpose and intent, and a confident and knowledgeable tone that leads its reader from point to point with assurance. It is structured by a combination of theme and chronology, and one of its great strengths is the ease with which Ramon's analysis crosses genre. Shields's early essays are discussed alongside novels The Stone Diaries and Larry's Party as examples of 'Auto/biografiction' (p. 122), while in another chapter, the short story collection Dressing Up for the Carnival, Shields's biographical study Jane Austen, and her final novel Unless are connected by 'tropes of survival and endurance' (p. 147). An underlying seam of substantial archival research lends authority to the discussion.
As a concise summation of the current critical standing of Shields's work, the introduction proves particularly valuable, laying out and challenging often condescending critical responses. Although it remains necessary to acknowledge the polemical purpose and intent of Ramon's thesis, someone coming new to Shields's work would quickly find his or her bearings via this account. …