• by Carol Shields
  • Narrated by Joan Allen
  • 7 hrs and 13 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

For all of her days, Reta Winters has enjoyed the useful monotony of happiness: a loving family, good friends, growing success as a writer of light fiction novels "for summertime". This placid existence cracks open one fearful day when her beloved oldest daughter, Norah, drops out of life to sit on a gritty street corner, silent but for the sign around her neck that reads "GOODNESS". Reta's search for what drove her daughter to such a desperate statement turns into an unflinching and surprisingly funny meditation on where we find meaning and hope. Warmth, passion, and wisdom come together in Carol Shields' remarkably supple prose. Unless, a harrowing but ultimately consoling story of one family's anguish and healing, proves her mastery of extraordinary fictions about ordinary life.


What the Critics Say

"A landmark book that constitutes yet another noteworthy addition to Shields's impressive body of work." (Publishers Weekly)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Production issues

Decidedly, I am a fan of Carol Shields. This novel even has a bonus layer, a view into the protagonist's life as a writer and her process which I found illuminating.

But unfortunately I can only give three stars because of production issues. While Shields' precise and descriptive grasp of the moment and development of images never fail to deliver, the narration in "Unless" is uneven, starting out crisp and clear at each chapter's beginning and then fading away as the section progresses. I found myself having to constantly adjust the volume on long commutes. Additionally the narrator's voice seemed occluded, as though she'd swallowed a frog.

And then there is the issue of the background music which I thought was intrusive. I sometimes fall asleep during a listen - no, not while driving, although I did take a wrong exit once - and the too-loud piano interludes kept jolting me awake and ruining my nap!

So, to conclude, excellent book, mediocre listen.
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- Pamela Harvey "glam"


If I could give this book minus stars, or better yet, give it back I would in a heartbeat.

I'm 2:49 into it and as far as I can tell, there is no actual plot to this 'story,' it is the droning monotony of this mother's daily life as she goes about it with her eldest daughter in the background having become some sort of transient.

She hangs out with her friends, and this is what she thinks about it. She makes love to her husband and this is what she thinks about it (never has sex been so unromantic), she goes shopping and this is what she thinks about it. She has lunch and this is what she thinks about it.... You get the idea.

It is literally the minutia of her daily life and what she thinks about it.

While the readers voice is quite nice, and her reading very agreeable, and I found none of the production quirks the other reviewer spoke of, the material is at best a sleep aid.

I'm not sure how or why I, or WHAT for that matter, I'm supposed to care about. It just goes on and on about NOTHING. Not in a good Seinfeld way, but in the way a lonely co-worker might corner you and tell you all about how they rearranged their figurines for the entire weekend.

That is exactly how 'page-turning' this novel is.
Seriously, I can't think of a good thing to say about this novel. I can't finish it. Whatever may happen, I just don't care.

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- A. Compton

Book Details

  • Release Date: 09-25-2007
  • Publisher: HarperAudio