The Custodian of Paradise Paperback – Jun 19 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Sheilagh Fielding—a striking, unconventional, six-foot-three Newfoundland woman with a limp—returns from prolific Johnston's The Colony of Unrequited Dreams for this highly atmospheric sequel. Near the end of WWII, Fielding (as she is known), a notorious St. John's columnist, holes up on the nearby deserted island of Loreburn after her mother dies and leaves her a small inheritance. There, Fielding senses the presence of her mysterious "Provider," who has shadowed her all her life and whom she has never met face-to-face. As Fielding tells her story—abandoned by her mother at six; raised by a father who insinuates she's not his—Fielding's Provider draws closer to her solitary retreat. But Fielding has long kept another secret: she gave birth to twins at the age of 15, who were raised as her half-siblings by her mother in New York City. Johnston's descriptive prose can be exhilarating, from the windswept island to a dingy Manhattan, and he has a sure hand with historical nuggets. There's little tension over the 500-plus pages, and the denouement (her father's identity; her children's fate) is overblown. But Fielding is a fascinating character: she courts her own estrangement as much as she is tormented by it. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Suspend your disbelief and sit back for a gripping read in the vein of a nineteenth-century romantic novel but featuring a twentieth-century woman. Feisty, iconoclastic, and extremely ironic, Sheilagh Fielding was originally introduced in Johnston's^B award-winning historical novel, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams (1999). There she was featured as the fictitious companion of Joey Smallwood, first premier of Newfoundland. Now, however, she is the star, and her story is a riveting one. The novel opens with Sheilagh, in time and space very close to the end of the novel, trying to find a deserted island to live on. The novel ends with her leaving that island, not many months later. But the time between those two events spans almost 30 years and two wars. Through the use of diaries--her own and others--as well as letters, Sheilagh tells her fascinating story, a tale that includes the puzzle of her paternity and the everlasting effects of her own motherhood. The unsatisfactory ending begs a sequel, but even so, this would make for a rousing discussion in a book club. Maureen O'Connor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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with Sheilagh Fielding as a strong secondary presence. This novel
reverses that order--it features Sheilagh Fielding with Joey Smallwood
more in the background. This is not a book that you can hurry through--
think of a cup of very hot, very rich coffee--you have to sip it and savor
The writing is superb--rich prose with a wonderful sense of time and
place. Sheilagh Fielding, for reasons unclear at first, takes up
residence on an island off Newfoundland's south coast--in an abandoned
fishing village. There's very little of the present--perhaps 90% of
the story is retrospective--a looking back at the events in her life.
At six feet three and sharp-tongued (to put it mildly) she has not made
many friends (other than Smallwood). But she has a mysterious "provider"
who has kept an eye on her. The provider's role slowly unfolds--and much
of what Sheilagh (and the reader) thought they knew about her (Sheilagh's)
life gets turned around. In a way, this reminds me of Robert Goddard's
novels (qv) where the past gets unravelled many years later--but in this
case (unlike Goddard's books) Sheilagh starts learning about the
provider when she's 16, and at age 44 (when the novel opens) she has
been learning bits and pieces since she was 16. For me, the process was
like slowly and carefully taking the many layers of wrappings off a very
Johnston has written another wonderful book--this doesn't have the
historical sweep of Colony--but it's layered and rich, and not to be
Sheilagh Fielding is my favorite character of all time, and when I first heard Mr. Johnston was devoting an entire novel to her, I thought it was too good to be true. And it was definitely worth the wait. There could have been no better followup to The Colony, and The Guardian may even be a greater book, if that is possible. My hat is definitely off to Mr. Johnston, a true genius in our midst.
But the writing is wonderful. And the details, and sense of place, are fantastic. I couldn't put this book down, and you won't be able to either.