The Stone Diaries

Reviewed: January 31, 2007
By: Carol Shields / narrated by Sarah Botsford
Publisher: BTC Audio Books
5 hours on 4 CDs, $35.00

As it’s been about 12 years since I read The Stone Diaries I wasn’t completely certain what to expect from this dramatic reading when Gooselane Editions sent it along for review. I did recall that there was a portion of the book which had a lot of letters in it, and I wondered how that would work.

I needn’t have worried. I was caught from the opening words, in which Daisy Goodwill tells us of the events which occurred on the day of her birth and some of those which occurred before, all narrated in the first person by a present tense voice which never really stops looks at herself from the outside throughout the novel.

The exceptions to this narrative voice, which carries most of the book, are the sections that are letters from others and the monologues that attempt to account for Daisy’s nervous collapse during the year after she lost her cherished position as Mrs. Greenthumb in one of the Ottawa newspapers.

Before all that, however, Daisy has to be born, lose her mother in the very act, be spirited off to Winnipeg by her next door neighbour, be reunited some years later with her father, move to Indiana, grow up, be trapped into a very strange marriage during which her husband dies on the honeymoon before they can consummate the deed, move to Ottawa and marry the older man who helped his mother raise her when she was young, have her own children, rescue one of her in-laws and help her raise her daughter, and suffer the loss of her husband and the need to find a new focus for her life.

By then Daisy Goodwill has become Mrs. Barker Flett and Mrs. Greenthumb and grandmother and a senior citizen living in Florida with the friends of her Indiana youth. 

Her father, long since deceased at that point, left behind two monuments. In the graveyard of the village where Daisy was born, Cuyler Goodwill had erected a great stone monument to the memory of his beloved Mercy, Daisy’s mother. On the back lawn of his Indiana retirement cottage, he had preserved more of that memory within a stone pyramid, the very thing he was working on the day he died. These stone diaries are one of the records of a life. Others can be found in the letters and recorded memories of Daisy’s friends, which emerge from the story like ribbon wrapped papers out of a shoe box, all surrounded by the voice of Daisy, who seems to observe herself as from a distance and seems to marvel at how it all works out. Born in 1905, died in 199_(something), Daisy Goodwill Flett comes across as a very real person in these pages.

Sarah Botsford has done a wonderful job with the many voices of this book, and the abridgment, though it has to leave out a lot, nevertheless feels as if we have a complete text at our ears.