- by E. Annie Proulx
Awash with atmosphere and emotion
One can compare Proulx's rhythm of writing with that of the sea – mesmerizing! The Shipping News tells the story of a mediocre newspaper reporter in Mockingbird, NY, by the name of Quoyle (we don’t learn his first name). Lumbering, incurably withdrawn, and painfully self-conscious, he is described as having "a great damp loaf of a body" with "a giant's chin" that he constantly tries to hide with his hand.
Good-hearted but generally unsuccessful, Quoyle has always considered himself a failure. He is father to two young daughters, Bunny and Sunshine, and is completely devoted to his unfaithful and abusive wife, Petal Bear. Shortly after kidnapping and selling Bunny and Sunshine to sex traffickers, Petal and her lover are killed in a car accident. The two girls are located by police and returned safely to Quoyle. He feels his world collapsing around him.
When his paternal aunt (headstrong upholstering-entrepreneur, Agnis Hamm) convinces him that a fresh prospective would do both he and his two young daughters good, Quoyle decides to reclaim his life and goes back to his roots - Newfoundland; where his aunt, in search of a new life for herself, is headed. After moving into his family's ancestral home in Killick-Claw, he is hired on at a local newspaper, "The Gammy Bird", to report on the shipping news, the comings and goings at the local port.
Inevitably Quoyle settles into a small fishing village existence, where life is ruled (and sometimes, taken) by the sea. Where boats are a necessity and not recreation. As the tide ebbs and flows, troubling family secrets are uncovered. Despite his disturbing past, Quoyle gradually forms close bonds with those in the community and begins to gain the self-assurance and emotional strength he’s always lacked - allowing himself to love, and be loved, again.
Adding richness and atmosphere are the varying pieces - unusual characters - that make up the patch-work of small-town, Killick-Claw. Quoyle's newspaper coworkers... Jack Buggit, owner and editor of the newspaper, for whom fishing is both a calling and a curse. Old sea dog, 70-something, Billy Pretty – handles the home and local gossip column. Beaufield Nutbeem – animated English castaway on the Newfoundland shore who covers foreign correspondence and tracks down sexual abuse stories, is obsessed with his boat and plans of sailing across the Atlantic in it. Ever-enraged, Tert Card – "face like cottage cheese clawed with a fork" who describes himself as "the bloody so-called managing editor, copy editor, rewrite man, mechanicals, ad makeup department, mail and distribution chief, snow shoveler", harbours dreams of relocating to Florida. Then of course there’s the mad old hermit cousin who attempts to cast spells by tying a wide array of nautical knots. The former-truck driver who knits over his desk. The boat builder who hums the same folk tune under his breath. The tall quiet widow, Wavey Prowse, who ultimately changes Quoyle’s life.
Poignant, heart-rending, quirky, graceful, and often gut-splittingly funny, The Shipping News is a beautifully touching portrait of human emotion – a story of loss, pain, recovery and hope. Like most small village potboilers, it's a slow-moving yet vivid yarn that takes patience to immerse yourself in. But unlike the frigid and unforgiving Atlantic waters off the Grand Banks, it won't fail to warm your heart.
Penned prior to my review...
This book is on my 2011 reading list, and has sat on my shelf long enough. Glad I finally picked it up and read it. It's definitely one for my "favourites list". Started listening to this while in hospital, on audiobook. Narrated by Paul Hect who did an amazing job! This was so well-written (aside from a few expletives, which I felt were not necessary). Atmospheric and thoughtful. Really enjoyed this. Being from Nova Scotia, working in the newspaper industry, and knowing many Newfoundlanders helps too! ;) Hope to write a proper review of this soon.