Happenstance

Carol Shields

‘The beautiful irony of “Happenstance” is that its novels are both bound together and held apart by the strength of the marriage they describe.’ Rupert Christiansen, Harpers and Queen

These companion novels – by turns touching, compassionate and humorous – tell the stories of Jack and Brenda Bowman. In all the years of their marriage they have hardly ever been apart.

In ‘The Wife’s Story’, Brenda, now forty-years-old, and who has been surprised to discover a source of creative energy, is about to spend a week away from their home in a Chicago suburb to attend a craft convention in Philadelphia. It is her first trip alone. Removed from her familiar environment, all the gathering emotions that have unsettled her life over the last few years are focused and bring her to a crisis. Brenda is vulnerable in a strange city. She is also ready to grasp whatever experiences come her way.

In ‘The Husband’s Story’, back in Chicago, Jack faces his own crisis. It is the first time he has been left to cope on his own. He is immobilised by self-doubt, beginning to question his worth and the value of his work as a historian. Suddenly, in that one week, his world falls apart. He has to deal with an attempted suicide, a marital breakdown and, not least, their two difficult children. In the process, he manages to work out his feelings and to learn something about himself.

Reviews of Happenstance

    • ‘A compassionate, funny, multi-layered work about the elusive nature of history. With dazzling deftness Shields demonstrates the alienation innate in the most loving relationships between the sexes. Taken as one story or two, this is a remarkable, perceptive and painfully accurate work that yields more with each reading.’ Sunday Times
    • ‘An instinct for the patterns of everyday speech, a willingness to ferret out psychological nuances and a gift for investing her characters with the appearance of a living, breathing reality. Shields has a generous and unblinking sense of the complexity of forces which draw people to one another.’ Jonathon Coe, Guardian
    • ‘A celebration of marriage as historical accident, it makes a delightful portrait of a partnership, full of quirky humour between two people who are at once familiars and strangers to each other.’ Antonia Bremner, The Times
    • ‘Shields is an acute recorder of contemporary mores. This novel resounds with a humanity and generosity that is truly memorable.’ Kevin Loader, Daily Telegraph
    • ‘The single biggest pleasure, though, remains Shield’s prose, at once dense and duplicate. Its great strength has always been its ability to capture small moments and make them important.’ Literary Review