Personal, Reviews

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.

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