Top positive review
Arr - A Fine Book
on January 23, 2007
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.