The superb first novel from the author of The Stone Diaries, winner of the Governor General's Award, a National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize.
Judith Gill is a well-respected biographer who desperately wants to write fiction. When she joins her academic husband on sabbatical in Birmingham, she finds on the shelves of their rented flat the notes of a failed novelist. With considerable guilt, Judith decides to plagiarize one of the ideas and brings it home to Canada to work on. Frustrated by the creative process but determined to be more imaginative, Judith attends writing classes and later discovers that her tutor, suffering from writer's block, has ripped off 'her' idea. Once again, Shields focuses her sharp gaze on the small ceremonies of life in this novel of rare intelligence and wit. – Back cover of the 1995 Vintage Canada publication
On the surface, there's nothing about Judith Gill that would recommend her as an ideal protagonist. She's ordinary: wife of a rather remote academic, mother of adolescents she no longer really knows, biographer of arcane subjects. But Shields's gift is in making the ordinary compelling. What's surprising in this, her first novel originally published in 1976 and released in the U.S. for the first time, are the almost playful touches, which stand in contrast to the relatively placid rhythm of her Pulitzer Prize-winning The Stone Diaries. Just when Small Ceremonies begins to look like a quiet little story about a middle-class woman in an anonymous Canadian city, Shields tosses in a twist that forces the reader to look at Judith in a new light. It's Shields's repeated juxtaposition of orderliness and spontaneity, the mundane with the unexpected, that makes Judith an appealing subject-though she wouldn't see herself that way. The consummate biographer, Judith focuses more on others than on herself. And while Shields doesn't moralize in this slight novel, if there is a message, it is this: we may think we know the people who fill our lives, but we really only know parts of them-and we're fooling ourselves to think otherwise.