‘The Shipping News’ by Annie Proulx

the shipping newsEvery now and again a book comes along that’s a real classic and this is one of ’em – sheer brilliance inside a dust jacket. And yet I very nearly didn’t read it at all.

Partly this was due to the style of the prose which is light, impressionistic, and full of partial sentences and dense Newfoundland dialect, making it quite hard to understand. Even more, it was due to the nature of the main character, Quoyle, an ugly and uninspired hulk of a man who is less a hero than a bag-pudding of faults and neuroses. I may not want all my heroes to be tall, dark and lantern-jawed but it is nice to find they have some redeeming features, and in the first few chapters Quoyle has none.

Until one particular incident, when his ex-wife takes their children and he sets off in dogged pursuit. I suddenly realised that he is a real person after all and that deep down he’s even quite likeable, and I began to turn the pages more quickly. And I’m very, very glad I did because this book is quite simply wonderful. The characters are beautifully drawn, their day-to-day lives and relationships fascinating enough to keep the reader hooked, and the descriptions of the Newfoundland scenery and way of life are stunning. I read the book as though I was there, sitting in the newspaper office with Quoyle, or eating strange fish dishes in the local cafeteria, or out in a fishing boat on the stormy sea. When I finished, it was quite a lurch to come back to the real world outside the pages of Proulx’s book.

The book’s been made into a film starring Kevin Spacey, which I’ve never managed to see. I have no idea if it does Proulx’s writing justice or not but I’ll be looking out for it for sure.

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5 thoughts on “‘The Shipping News’ by Annie Proulx

  1. Just finished the book, but I never found the redeeming quality that you did. I ended up liking Quoyle, but really all the characters seemed bland to me. Oh well!

  2. Pingback: Newfoundland. « The Hieroglyphic Streets

  3. DJ

    This is a book that really surprised me. I really wasn’t clicking with the story or characters. Then when I was three quarters of the way through, I suddenly realized that I really cared about Quoyle and that his world had come completely alive.

  4. Yes, I had exactly the same reaction. A little earlier in the book than you, perhaps, but it surprised me too. Better that way round than reading all that way and finding you *don’t* care!

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