Annie Proulx


The Shipping News


OK, overall this is a feel-good book, with our unlikely hero finding redemption for himself and his family by leaving behind city luxury/tension for the simple life in the harsh Newfoundland climate. Yes, some of the urban characters are too vile, and some of the rural ones too saintly, but it’s still an enjoyable ride. To pick up on her constant motif, Proulx deliberately has Quoyle start as a tangled mess, which is steadily untangled throughout the book. He finds his niche amongst the colourful characters of a community, finally putting behind this confused victim of the dog-eat-dog metropolis.


A fantasy, sure, but a well-drawn one. Proulx doesn’t leave it up to the reader to take her word for it that the characters are colourful: she creates the people and funny dialogue. Some of the interactions around the newspaper are hilarious. She doesn’t just say the community concert is charming, but evokes line by line Beety’s triumphant showstopper. Nutbeem’s drunken farewell felt wonderfully drunken. She ticks some PC boxes with all these strong women, but also runs against type by managing to have a doormat fatty as protagonist.


I don’t quite know how I feel about the frequent summary – skip a dozen words – style (who needs full sentences anyway), and the frequent invented or obscure dialect words, but it does give her an individual voice and make the setting seem, as it’s meant to, nothing like anywhere you’ve ever lived.


So although sometimes life seemed a little too enchanted up North, I enjoyed the hours I spent there. It didn’t become too cloying – or maybe the episodes along the way  were strong enough (and Quoyle had suffered enough) to not begrudge Quoyle his happy ending.


May 2010