First published in 1993, "The Shipping News" is Anne Proulx's second novel. It went on to win a list of prizes, including the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Quoyle isn't exactly the typical hero : although a good, kind-hearted man, he has little faith in himself and his self-confidence is non-existent. Physically, he's a large, red-haired man, with pale eyes, an over-sized chin and no neck. He has little in common with his family : his father is a genuinely obnoxious, self-obsessed bully with no obvious redeeming qualities while his brother is a self-centred, poisonous rat. After stumbling from one trade to another, Quoyle more or less settles on journalism as a career - starting out with the Mockingburg Reporter. He later meets and marries Petal Bear. (Despite his somewhat unorthodox appearance, Quoyle is as prodigious downstairs as he is in the chin department). Initially, things go well : their first month together is genuinely happy, but the following six years bring Quoyle two daughters and plenty of misery. Although Petal has a great interest in sex, she tends to pursue that interest with people who aren't her husband...
Things change dramatically for Quoyle in his mid-thirties. Following the death of his parents in a suicide pact, he meets an aged aunt (Agnis Hamm) for the first time. Although unable to attend the funeral, she arranges to come down and collect his father's ashes. However, by the time she arrives, Quoyle is also a widower : Petal dies in a car accident that also takes the life of one of her many boyfriends. Shortly before running off, Petal had also sold their daughters to a very dodgy photographer for $[...]...fortunately, the police managed to arrive at the photographer's apartment before anything to questionable had happened. Having lost his job - leaving nothing for him in Mockingburg - Aunt Agnis suggests moving to the ancestral Quoyle homestead in Newfoundland. Quoyle, Agnis and the two daughters set off for Quoyle point and, although in need of some repair, the old house is still standing. There's also the promise of a new job : writing the shipping news for the Gammy Bird, the newspaper based in the neighbouring town.
This is a book I'd put off reading for a while. Having won, among other prizes, the Pulitzer I was expecting a `challenging' book without a great deal of humour. I couldn't have been more wrong : the book is very easily read and - while it isn't always cheerful - there is plenty of humour in it. Aunt Agnis is a great character - I was particularly impressed how she dealt with her brother's ashes ! Quoyle has a slight tendency to think in headlines, especially when he feels he's somehow said or done something wrong. Highly recommended.Read more ›
E. Annie Proulx's "The Shipping News" is a great novel. However, it is not recommended to everybody. It sounds like a paradox, but it is true. To begin with, it is not an easy read. It takes time and patience, but it is worthwhile. The action is very slow and interior, besides much happens outside the characters, the main action is with their feelings and what goes inside their minds and hearts. Thus this is not the kind of novel that appeals to those used to fast and easy books. Moreover, this is a very intellectual material and requires a lot of references and thinking from the reader. Quoyle is a thirty-six years old who has devoted his life to his wife and children. He hasn't accomplished much, but he's fine with what they have. However his wife is not happy with this life. She sells their daughters and while is running away she dies. This is falls like a bomb in Quoyle's life --disturbing his peaceful routine. In order to restore the peace, he moves to his ancestors' house in an isolated and cold town. There, along with his aunt, he intends to bring his life back to place. With a new job and meeting an interesting widow, Quoyle realizes that life is good, but he still has some ghosts from the past haunting him. "The Shipping News" is a novel fulfilled with metaphors. Everything has more than its first meaning. Quoyle is not only the name of the protagonist, but also something related to ships --and it will be through the shipping news that our protagonist will find his place in the world. Another thing is a special touch in the novel is the quotes from "The Ashley Book of Knots', written by Clifford W. Ashley, or from "The Mariner's Dictionary". They are nice and give the insights on what the chapter will be about --another device related to the use of metaphors--, plus there are illustration of these knots which are very well done and even cute. The movie version, directed by Lasse Hallström is a great and underrated film. More than being faithful to the novel, it makes justice to the spirit of the story. It is perfect to take the audience into Quoyle's world. Both movie and book are highly recommended, but only to specific audiences. My suggestion is, if you want to read the book the effort is worthwhile --it is diffcult, but reawarding--, however if you feel this is not the book for you, do not force yourself to read it.Read more ›
THE SHIPPING NEWS by E. Annie Proulx The winner of the 1994 Pulitzer for Fiction, THE SHIPPING NEWS is a story that stands out and will be remembered in this reviewer's mind as something that cannot be imitated or copied. Annie Proulx created a set of unique and quirky characters and fit them into the setting that is the cold north of Newfoundland, centering on the sorry life of one man named Quoyle. His life changes when he moves himself and his two young daughters from Brooklyn to the land that was home to his ancestors. His memories of his own immediate family are not happy ones. But family ties are strong. Life for Quoyle was never good. He never heard a loving word from his parents or brother. As an adult, life was not great either. He goes from job to job, doesn't have many friends, and lives the life of an outcast. One day he meets a man named Partridge at the local Laundromat, and the two become fast friends, despite their differences in background. When Quoyle is unemployed once again, Partridge helps him get a job at a local newspaper where he also happens to work, and soon Quoyle is working semi-regularly for this newspaper, but isn't doing that much better. He's not "getting it" and is not what one calls a great asset to the company. He gets fired and rehired seasonally, and then Partridge and wife Mercalia announce they are moving to California. Quoyle feels his life is about to end, his only friends leaving to move across the country. Then, Quoyle meets Petal in a bar. Their relationship starts off on the right foot, but soon they are married and things fall apart fast. He now has a wife that cheats on him openly, a wife he loves with a passion but Petal looks down upon him with disdain. The more he loves her, the more she stays away, flaunting her lovers in his face. And now with two children, Quoyle rarely sees Petal at all. A few years of unhappy living, and he receives word from his father that both parents are on their last legs. With the death of both mother and father, and a brother that doesn't seem to care, it is the last straw when Quoyle finds out that his wife has taken off with the kids. Petal's car is in an accident, the children are missing, and his wife is dead. Quoyle is beside himself, and the last thing he wanted to hear was that the children had been sold to some man. What else could go wrong in his life? Amazingly enough, this all happens within the first 26 pages of the book. Quoyle soon finds his two daughters, and is now on his way to Newfoundland with them and his father's sister Agnis and her dog Warren. The life they lead in his family homeland is quite a difference from what they experienced in New York. It's rougher, tougher, but yet Quoyle adapts. With the help of Partridge, Quoyle is hired by the local paper THE GAMMY BIRD and as the reader discovers, Quoyle transforms from a pathetic loser to someone that has merit and credibility. And he also finds love. THE SHIPPING NEWS was a somewhat funny look at a man who needed just a little push (or a big boost) in the right direction to get his life on track. Written in a style that may put off some readers, this novel was enjoyable and the story always kept this reader wanting to read more. It's a story of love, life, and the need to be loved back, all told through the story of Quoyle. The interesting characters throughout the book enhance his story, and one comes to love each one. This reviewer highly recommends THE SHIPPING NEWS but with a word of caution: although it can be a fast read, one needs to adjust to the style of writing that Proulx uses to tell this tale.Read more ›