infobox Book |
name = Unless
title_orig =
translator =

author = Carol Shields
cover_artist =
country = Canada
language = English
series =
genre = Novel
publisher = Harper Collins
release_date = April 30, 2002
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages = 224 pp (hardback first edition)
isbn = ISBN 978-0007141074 (hardback first edition)
preceded_by = Larry's Party
followed_by =

"Unless", first published by Fourth Estate, an imprint of Harper Collins in 2002, is the final novel by Canadian writer Carol Shields. Semi-autobiographical, it was the capstone to Shields's writing career: she died shortly after its publication in 2003. The work was widely acclaimed and nominated for the Booker Prize, the Giller Prize, the Governor General's Award, the Orange Prize for Fiction, and received the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. Like many of her works (especially The Stone Diaries), "Unless" explores the extraordinary that lies within the ordinary lives of ordinary women.

The novel is narrated in first person by 44-year old writer and translator, Reta Winters. The book proceeds as a linear series of reflections by Reta, elliptically coming to the thematic center of the story: the seemingly arbitrary decision of Reta's college-aged daughter Norah to drop out of university and live on the street with a cardboard sign affixed to her chest that reads "Goodness". Although the novel does not in any way proceed like a mystery, the reasons for Norah's departure from the normal world are Reta's primary motivation in writing. In parallel, her relationship with her French mentor (a Holocaust survivor and poet) drives much of her narration and view of herself.

The novel deals extensively with the role of women and in particular, women's literature. Late in the novel, Reta starts to break from herself and write in character as a disenfranchised female writer. The underlying theme is that the lives of women are underwritten, ignored, and dealt with as "trivial" by the literary establishment.The novel also functions largely as an investigation into the role of writing in general (independent of gender). Reta's grief over her daughter's state makes her very inwardly focussed on the process of writing. A reflection of this is shown in the title of the book and the chapter titles. "Unless" and the chapter titles ("therefore", "else", "instead") are all words that are used to couch the fragmented manner in which life fits together. As Shields writes, "A life is full of isolated events,but these events, if they are to form a coherent narrative, require odd pieces of language to link them together, little chips of grammar (mostly adverbs or prepositions) that are hard to define... words like therefore, else, other, also, thereof, therefore, instead, otherwise, despite, already, and not yet."

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  • Unless — Un*less , conj. [Formerly, onles, onlesse, onlesse that, that is, in less, in a less case. See {On}, and {Less}.] Upon any less condition than (the fact or thing stated in the sentence or clause which follows); if not; supposing that not; if it… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • unless — [un les′] conj. [ME onlesse, earlier on lesse that, in lesse that, at less than, for less] in any case other than that; except that; except if [unless it rains, the game will be played] prep. except; save [nothing can help him, unless a miracle] …   English World dictionary

  • unless — preposition except, excepting, however, precluding, save, without Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • unless — mid 15c., earlier onlesse, from on lesse (than) on a less condition (than), the first syllable originally on, but the negative connotation and the lack of stress changed it to un …   Etymology dictionary

  • unless — ► CONJUNCTION ▪ except when; if not. ORIGIN from ON(Cf. ↑on) or IN(Cf. ↑in) + LESS(Cf. ↑less) …   English terms dictionary

  • unless — un|less W1S1 [ʌnˈles, ən ] conj [Date: 1400 1500; Origin: on less than on a lower condition than (1400 1500)] 1.) used to say that something will happen or be true if something else does not happen or is not true ▪ Unless some extra money is… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • unless — conjunction used when one thing will only happen or be true as long as another thing happens or is true: Milk quickly turns sour unless it s refrigerated. | Unless some extra money is found, the theatre will close. USAGE NOTE: UNLESS WORD CHOICE …   Longman dictionary of contemporary English

  • unless — un|less [ ən les ] conjunction *** used for saying that if something does not happen, something else will happen or be true as a result: I can t help you unless you tell me what s wrong. The car should be in the garage unless someone s moved it.… …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • unless */*/*/ — UK [ənˈles] / US conjunction used for saying that if something does not happen, something else will happen or be true as a result I can t help you unless you tell me what s wrong. The car should be in the garage unless someone s moved it. Unless… …   English dictionary

  • unless — [[t]ʌnle̱s[/t]] ♦♦ CONJ SUBORD You use unless to introduce the only circumstances in which an event you are mentioning will not take place or in which a statement you are making is not true. Unless you are trying to lose weight to please yourself …   English dictionary