on May 24, 2003
A lot of books are about man's struggle, etc. Frankly, it gets a bit boring and "ho-hum" after awhile. The only difference with this novel is the location: Newfoundland.
As a Canadian, I have been to Newfoundland and I think the author's depiction is really off base. I believe it gives readers a false impression of what this maritime province is really like.
Some characters are annoying and I'm not a huge fan of her narrative voice. I also dislike the excessive use of sentence fragments. This is, of course, personal preference. My opinion of the book is that the use of descriptive detail and imagery and other literary devices conceals the fact that the plot is fairly bland.
on December 28, 1999
Just finished E. Annie Proulx's "The Shipping News." Only disappointment in this book was having to read the last page. I wanted the story to go on and on. Proulx's characters were so believeably real that they became like old friends, and like old friends, you hate to say good-bye.
Along with writing about in depth characters, the author manages quite nicely and very enjoyably to educate the reader with boating terminolgy , the history of the declining fishing industry in Newfoundland ,and the problems incurred during severe winter storms,
Can't wait to read Proulx's next book.
on September 12, 2000
This is truly a unique novel, a tale of rebirth amidst the odd customs and harsh elements of Newfoundland. Protagonist Quoyle is an unremarkable man, father of two young daughters who must cope with the loss of his unfaithful wife (Petal) as the novel starts out. Petal is one of the most despicable characters I have ever encountered in modern fiction, and yet Quoyle continues his love for her long after she deserves it. I was a little perplexed as I read the book as to why Quoyle continued to hold such deep emotions for Petal, but I guess his low self-esteem, and her initial affection for him, left a lasting impact that enabled him to forget her horrible transgressions.
Ultimately Quoyle, his aunt and his two young children decide to move to Newfoundland, where he was born and where his family history runs deep, to try and piece together their lives. They have dreams of moving back into a house on a point overlooking the bay that has stood deserted for decades. What he encounters there is portrayed in the Shipping News with compassion, tenderness, and a keen eye for detail by skilled novelist Annie Proulx.
Quoyle's Newfoundland is full of offbeat characters with names like Nutbeem, Jack Buggit, Billy Pretty, Wavey and Tert Card. As he assimilates into the culture and gradually gets over his failed marriage, we see Quoyle develop as a writer, father and as a man until he gradually becomes ready to feel true emotions again. Ironically I read this novel soon after reading Anne Tyler's The Accidental Tourist, and while I found Macon's romance in Tyler's book to be a little forced and unromantic, Quoyle's rebirth in the Shipping News to me had a much more sincere undercurrent of true feelings. You cared what happened to these characters, as they seemingly cared about themselves and those around them.
The novel's eccentric characters and the occasional absurd coincidences in the plot, for me, were the only things keeping this from ranking as a 5 star novel. Characters kept popping up on the water just in time for a rescue, or at precisely the right locations in the bay (days or weeks apart) to find separate parts of the same body, which to me seemed a little contrived. However, all in all, the book gave a very fresh look at a place few of us are familiar with, and told a story of a family with deep secrets and true to life emotions. Long after you forget some of the actions in the novel, you will remember its sense of place and the odd camaraderie of the characters.
on November 27, 1997
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.
on April 17, 2000
I only started to read this book because I needed one (and quickly!) for my english class. After reading the first page, I thought that I would never get past the first chapter, it seemed so boring! But the more I read, the more I got into it. I loved how (in the beginning) Quoyle (the main character) was so insecure and unsure of himself, and how he totally changed. I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who is making a major change in their life (like moving, getting over a lost love, etc.) E. Annie Proulx did a great job with this book! She combines humour and wit with whole-heartedness, and a really down to earth concept that anyone can relate to. I found myself reading segments aloud to friends, and I laughed out loud more than once! I will definitely read her next book.
on March 19, 2015
After reading about a book a week for the past 2 years, I don't think I've disliked a book more than "The Shipping News." At at page 267 of 340, I finally decided to do what I've never done since I was a teenager; I put the book back on the shelf, unfinished. I simply could not go on any longer.
"The Shipping News" seems like such familiar enchanting territory, begging to achieve greatness, but always manages to come up short. In the book, there are shades of "A Confederacy of Dunces" with the unfortunate character of Quoyle. There's a bit of magical realism recalling "One Hundred Years of Solitutde." There's even post-modern Pynchon material, mainly with the character's absurdist names (also, there's a subplot about a ship built by Hitler, which seems like something that's probably in "Gravity's Rainbow" somewhere). However, none of it gels.
A lot has been written about Proulx's writing style. At first, I was intrigued, and excited to be reading her short, yet precisely descriptive style. However, after the first 30 pages in which half a lifetime of events occur, Proulx spends the next 300 wallowing in tedium and unnecessary description. Her style, quickly, becomes tiresome and downright painful.
I find it telling that plot summaries of the novel, and even many 5 star reviews, just can't seem to describe what's going on in the novel. Most reviews read something like... "A real original. We examine the life of Quoyle after he moves to Newfoundland to discover his family's roots with his children and Aunt following the death of his wife. What happens next is unforgettable and original." But the problem is, what happens next, so few can sum up. The novel is simply endless conversations about bad food, gloomy weather, car accidents, sunken ships of the past, all told by characters with names like Tert Card and Diddy Shovel.
Save your time and money. How this won the Pulitzer, I'll never know. I just wish I had this past week back to have read anything other than "The Shipping News."
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.
on November 1, 2002
I don't think I've ever read any book quite like The Shipping News. I bought it due to the recommendation of a good friend back in 1996 and have attempted to read it ever since. The writing is... unusual.
It reads more like poetry and sticks in your mind that way, too.
A short sentence. A bemused look. The reader is confused. A gust of wind. The toaster pops. The smell of aftershave. This reader wonders how it's all connected. The groan of anguish.
I haven't gotten through it. I just can't bring myself to read it as I get so lost.
Even after seeing the movie, I picked up the book and found it just as hard to read. Choppy sentences, slow moving plot... did I say plot? The book of the book states that 'Quole finds himself a part of an unfolding, exhilarating Atlantic drama'. Now, the movie must have forgotten to put this in, and I'm pretty sure I haven't found that in the book, either, though I kept hoping.
I suspect that the people who read this book must have given up and made something up to write on the back of the book. They probably thought, well, it must have a plot, so let me think of a word that doesn't really tie me down.
Read this book when you want something very different. I'm sure that when I'm old enough, I'll appreciate it, too. (Retirement is only 20 years away.)
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.
on December 6, 2001
This book caught my attention with such a strong grip that I am currently studying it for an English assignment at school. While I could type pages about my thoughts on the book, I will try and save the full version for my english teacher and just give my first and foremost reactions to the novel.
Ms. Proulx's writing style is unique and deliciously fresh - it flows freely but also weaves such a brilliant, passionate story. For me, the passion is in there, although it may be obscured from some people that get dragged down while looking for climaxes. The story of Quoyle is in some ways just an account of the life of an American man that has had a hard time, who finds his luck changing, but I felt that his story could carry on for volumes and volumes of books. There is a sensation of a fairy-tale while reading it - I think from the twists and incidents that spring from nowhere, for example, the discovery of the head (no spoilers as to whose head) in the suitcase. The names and place names also add to the fairytale-esqueness of the novel: the children - Bunny and Sunshine, and the various places around Newfoundland - Bloody Banks, Lost All Hope - they all keep the story interesting and quirky.
The characters all have histories that merit a story each, but Ms. Proulx has managed to keep the right balance of mystery and background. I was particularly drawn to the character of the Aunt - she has suffered a lot at the hands of family, and although she found a few years of happiness, that too was taken from her too soon. She always seemes to account things as they should be, and not as they have been in her experience, forming a character that gets my sympathy, but even more, my respect.
So maybe I have rambled a bit, but this novel has made many impressions on me - I think everyone will gain some insight from reading it. It also prompted me to read any other books I could find by E Annie Proulx - namely the short stories, Heart Songs. these have the same style and the same sense of providing a window into the lives of fascinating people that we may never be priveleged enough to meet in real life.
Just one question though - how do you pronounce Proulx?