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3.7 out of 5 stars
The Shipping News
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on June 5, 2002
Because of circumstances beyond my control (trapped in one room on a 90 degree night, a room with a malfunctioning air conditioner), I read this book in one sitting. Even so, I don't think the heat addled my brain - or my viewpoint.
The book was a slow read. It focused on one man, Quoyle, who has had more than his fair share of hard luck. His unfaithful wife, a woman he loved no matter what, has the misfortune to die in a car accident, leaving her two children with Quoyle. He can't seem to hold on to a job at the local newspaper and finally takes a job in Newfoundland. Needless to say, he doesn't think much of himself and doesn't hold out much hope for finding real love. But he is determined to make the best of things, if for no other reason than that he loves his children passionately. They are the focus of his life and he feels a responsibility to them.
The writing is vivid, the details memorable but the plot line is slow and meandering. I got through it only by taking many breaks and drinking lots of caffeine -and, in all honesty, might have given up entirely if the heat hadn't kept me awake.
If you like a lot of action and excitment, this one won't do. On the other hand, if you want a glimpse of a life totally unlike the one you are living (unless you happen to be a Newfoundlander who lives far from civilization), of days spent outside or along the shore, of a hardscrabble existence, you may enjoy reading this one. And Quoyle himself does undergo a metamorphisis of sorts, becoming more hopeful and finding some joy by the close of the book. In case you plan to read this one, I won't give away any more details but will say that this one certainly didn't live up to my expectations.
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on April 14, 2002
"The Shipping News" is the story of Quoyle, a man who doesn't quite fit in...anywhere. He wasn't the greatest son, or the greatest husband, or the greatest father, or even the greatest employee. Still, we can't help but like Quoyle because he knows he isn't the greatest and he cares. He wants to do something about it. He gets his chance when his wife, Petal, abducts and sells their two young daughters and then is killed in an auto accident.
Quoyle's Aunt makes a sudden and quite fortuitous appearance, en route to her ancestral home, a small fishing village in costal Newfoundland. She suggests that Quoyle and his daughters (yes, he gets them back, and it gives absolutely nothing of the plot away to let you know this) tag along with her and, needing a change of pace, Quoyle agrees.
In Newfoundland, Quoyle's luck doesn't really seem to improve much. He finds work at the local paper, "The Gammy Bird," covering the "shipping news," which basically entails reporting which ships have docked and which have just left port. He meets a variety of interesting people and, along the way, he tries to improve his life. Does he succeed? Yes and no.
I found "The Shipping News" to be both good and not so good, in very different ways. It's a slow book and one in which it takes a very long time to become engrossed. It is a book that has to "grow on you." I know other books are like this, but none of them should be. Whether quiet or thriller, melancholy or madcap, a good book (and a good writer) grab the reader on the very first page and pull him in, with the very first sentence, if possible. The characters in "The Shipping News" are very interesting, eccentric characters who want to make changes in their lives, but we didn't see that until far too many pages had been turned.
Proulx's style of writing is different. Choppy, with missing verbs, incomplete sentences. This would have been fine with me, (I enjoy it when an author tries something new with style), but Proulx didn't vary the choppy sentences with any longer ones. She wouldn't have had to compromise her style to give us a little break from the staccato rhythm of her story. As it was, it almost gave me a headache.
The descriptions of Newfoundland were beautiful. Maybe a little too beautiful. Proulx seemed to care more about "selling" us on the beauties of Newfoundland than she seemed to care about her characters. These were very good characters, marvelous creations (despite far too many "cute" names), but they simply didn't do anything that could cause us to care about what happened to them and to their lives. And whose fault was that?
I realize this is a quiet book about a quiet man attempting to make quiet changes in his life. But quiet doesn't have to mean slow and ponderous and yes, sometimes boring. It really does take the patience of Job to finish all of this book.
And what about the symbolism? I like symbolism in a book. I think it adds much to the atmosphere, but the symbolism in "The Shipping News" was heavy-handed, to say the least. The book was meant to be bleak, I realize that, and it works best bleak, but the symbolism could have used a lighter touch. Proulx could have trusted her readers a little more. We do get it; we really don't need to be hit over the head...every time.
I very much prefer character driven books over plot driven books, but I do need for the characters to do something or feel something or be involved with something. To simply sit there and wait just isn't enough.
The end of the book almost works. It would have worked if Proulx could have resisted the urge to give us that heavy-handed bit of foreshadowing. I didn't expect or want the book to end in a sugar-and-spice happily-ever-after scenario, so I'm glad Proulx didn't give in to that.
I don't know what more I can say about "The Shipping News." Parts of it were ponderous and parts of it were beautiful. Parts of it were very beautiful. I think they were just the wrong parts.
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on February 20, 2002
The Shipping News is one of those books which I could never see made into a movie...but it was, so...anyway...The main complaint I have about this book is that there is no freakin' plot. There are books out there with no clear plot that manage to keep you interested (Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. Great Read, I reccomend everyone read it) because the characters are odd, interesting, and a bit eccentric. The Shipping News brags ont he back cover that a cast of eccentric local characters help Quoyle....blah blah blah. The most eccentric character in this book was dead before page One Hundred. The other characters just kind of fell into place and were used where Annie Proulx decided they should be used.
When I started to read The Shipping News, I liked it. The relationship between Quoyle and Petal bear was interesting. Why couldn't she have written a story about the six years he was married to her?! Right there, a worthwhile plot. But then she sends him off to Newfoundland to do nothing. To live his life. Was starts out as an interesting read steadily becomes more of a chore. I was looking at other books I wanted to read after getting to page 250 like a homeless man looks at gourmet cuisine. But when you've made a commitment and your this close, you press on. From the time Newfoundland comes into view to Nutbeems party at his trailer, the book is as dull as a knife used everyday to cut everything that has never been sharpened. Yeah...
Now, another complaint is that Proulx seems to want to educate on Newfoundland more than the characters. If she wanted to do that, she should have written a non-fiction work on Newfoundland. the characters constantly talk about boats, places in Newfoundland...it's just boring. I felt like I could go to Newfoundland and never get lost after reading this book.
...
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on February 7, 2002
I picked up the Shipping News after a recent trip to Canada, where I listened to some Newfoundlanders debating as to whether or not the novel captures the spirit of the life and people there.
Proulx's writing style has a strange rhythm to it, which takes some getting used to. Once I got accustomed to the strange sentence fragments and occasional run-on I had an easy time getting into the mood of the novel. This is not a plot-driven story, nor is it filled with eventful scenes or dynamic characters. However, in my opinion this quiet-ness is an appealing quality; Proulx does a good job in fleshing out characters that, despite their ordinariness, I found to be compelling.
One character that Proulx does seem to have a bit of fun with is Petal, the protagonist's wife whose unexpected death sets him off on his adventure. She's neither the deepest nor the best developed character in the novel, but Petal does make a good villain and the reader cheers her demise.
That said, the book's pacing is slow. It hooks you just enough to keep you turning the pages, wondering where all of this will lead. In the end this works because Proulx takes some risks with then conclusion. If the plot's quiet uneventfulness had simply coasted through the final pages I would have been frustrated with the Shipping News, but in the end Proulx saves the novel.
Not everything works. Near the end there is a clumsy bit of foreshadowing (a dream which predictably turns to reality) and at times Proulx's poetic style can be distracting. I haven't read other work by her, but one supposes that her style might be more suitable for poetry or short stories. Shipping News is not a must-read, in my opinion, but I found it to be interesting and, at times, compelling. And like most poetry - either you'll like it or you won't; depends on your taste.
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on January 27, 2002
With the release of the film version of The Shipping News, I was compelled to read the novel. When I discovered it was the receiver the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, among other accolades, I determined that it must be an excellent read. I found the novel well-written, and very creative, but somewhat difficult to discern. The Shipping News is stylistically difficult. I was compelled to continue reading to find out what would happen, to discover what the movie would be about. It wasn't until the last chapter that the author allows for a dramatic climax. There are interesting parts in the story, but it flowed poorly.
I enjoyed the novel, I would give it 3 and a half stars if that were an option, however, was not as pleased with it as I had expected to be. It was certainly a work of art, compellingly executed, but the writing was not of a style that I particularly enjoy. The author had difficulty capturing my imagination, and I found some difficulty in visualizing the events as they occurred. Overall, I find the novel is worth the read. I wouldn't rate it as a favorite, but it could be yours.
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To get a feel for the book and its characters, I think one has to have a basic understanding of "the Maritime way of life" and even then, Newfoundland has its unique lifestyle. As one who lives in the Canadian Maritimes, and not far from Newfoundland, it is very easy to relate to some of the people in this book and their way of life. If you know nothing about Maritime life, then the story may not be appreciated. Say what you like about Newfoundlanders, when it comes to hospitality, there are no finer or friendlier people to be found and that comes from someone who has travelled extensively.
The author, however, does not do justice to Newfoundland and portrays it as a desolate spot in the middle of nowhere. On the contrary, there is some extremely breathtaking beauty in this unique province that the author has failed to capture on paper.
The strong points of the book are the characters' unique personalities, particularly that of Quoyle; he is a wonder to behold. The theme of the book was good; however, the subplots left much to be desired. The writing style may not be easily understood by everyone and that may be one of the reasons the book received some poor reviews.
I did find the book worth reading; however, the movie held my attention to a greater degree than the book. I enjoy a book that grasps the reader's attention from page one and never lets go. This book got off to such a slow start that it was almost painful to stick with it during the beginning pages. Once I did get past that hurdle and became accustomed to the author's unique writing style, the remainder of the book came together quite nicely.
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on June 13, 2001
Several reviewers have lamented the rather choppy, fragmented style...well, I found the word economy to be rather refreshing. The author's choice of words is very vivid and certainly does the trick in creating visual imagery...so what if the words are not arranged like English 101? The characters were likable and mostly well-drawn, if a bit caricaturic and overly simple. I agree that plot is a tad lacking, but to me, the point of the book is Quoyle...watching him unfold and gain confidence as he finally realizes some successes and happiness in his life among the locals. I truly did grow to like this character. Funny, though, that he was so quickly accepted by the folks of the town, given the ominous family history and the usual suspicion of "outsiders" in a small town, especially someone from the wild and lawless USA (a few potshots taken at America in this book, folks...all in fun I suppose?!).
While we're on the topic, I thought the absurd names assigned to people and places were kind of unneccesary and lent an unwelcome air of "attitude" on the part of the author, almost as if she were poking fun at her subject(s).
My main objection to the book was the story lines which were trotted out but not satisfactorily resolved or explained. For example, the elder child's oddness, nightmares and visions are described but not explored. And what of the butchered sailor found by Quoyle...a completely pointless exposition. There is much made of the Quoyle family "skeletons in the closet" but again, the topic is introduced, then made to seem insignificant in the face of Quoyle's metamorphosis. The crazy, stalking relative story line sort of fizzles out.
The ending was rather unsatisfying...it almost feels like the author had to meet a deadline or something and just dashed off a few pages to end the book. It was probably meant to be a surprise ending, but did not draw on the rest of the book and did not pull together any of the dangling loose ends.
On balance, I enjoyed the book but am not certain that I would read another of this author's works.
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on May 6, 1999
I was assigned "The Shipping News" for my Senior English class and it invoked rather indifferent feelings. I appreciated Proulx's unique, pensive, and insightful descriptions of everyday objects and occurences that often go unnoticed. There is an underlying humor in the quirkyness of the character's lives and experiences that adds enjoyment to the reading. However, the plot is rather dull as well as the lives of the characters in the book. It is similar to Faulkner's " As I Lay Dying" in the fact that it deals with the stream of conciousness of the characters,psychology,and choppy, matter of fact sentences. I highly recommend the book to readers who appreciate unique, offbeat writing styles, and the development of character's subconcious minds. However, for the reader who is engaged by exciting, action filled literature, this book is not for you; you will find it extremely difficult to become engaged in it and be enthusiastic to be following the lives of the characters. " The Shipping News" is highly recommended for careful readers who are appreciative of unique descriptions and the development of the mind and lives of ordinary people.
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on December 26, 1998
The Shipping News is a novel that captures attention with its unique style of writing. Proulx demonstrates her ability to bring life to otherwise ordinary sorroundings by her use of description. Killick-Claw becomes a place in Proulx's hands that evokes a brilliant sea-scape filled with peculiar and indiginous inhabitants with their own way of life. However, the early promise of the awakening of Quoyle to the joys of life are not fulfilled. This becomes the inherent problem for me. Perhaps I expected too much of a metamorphosis from Quoyle, from no self-esteem and no drive to someone who learns to appreciate life and his place in it. However, this is not what happens. The change in Quoyle is slight, and while he gains contentment in his new life, it left me with no sense of joy in this. There is no major point that gripped me and left me wanting to read more. In fact, it was a struggle to finish this book. Still, this is my view, and perhaps I simply enjoy more complex and outrageous characters, as opposed to the absolute normality of Quoyle. I could not identify with his predicament, thus could not delve within his psyche and inturn immerse myself within his story. Proulx probably intended this, however; a story with simple parameters has its place. I found it very hard to enjoy. Excellent writing still, and of this there is no doubt. Worth reading simply for the pleasure of prose.
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E. Annie Proulx has a gift for describing the ocean that even the late Jacques Cousteau might envy. At one point in this otherwise overrated story, she describes an unruffled bay as "an aluminum tray dotted with paper boats." And she's equally vivid when the weather turns nasty: "Translucent thirty-foot combers the color of bottles crashed onto stone, coursed bubbles into a churning lake of milk shot with foam."
Unfortunately, dead-on maritime observation and the main character's amusing habit of thinking in headlines can't by themselves redeem a meandering plot whose revelations are telegraphed whole chapters in advance of their appearance. Notice, too, that nearly every reviewer swoons over the Proulx style. Her writing is described as "staccato," "atmospheric," "vivid," and "unique." Phooey! Clerks at Western Union have been writing this way for decades. Proulx simply gets more mileage from sentence fragments than anyone else. It's a good trick, but it verges on self-parody after awhile. Some of us still believe that the best writing styles are the ones you don't notice. Bottom line: while reading this book, I stopped to read three others.
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