The Shipping News
by E Annie Proux
Category: Fiction / General
337 pages; ISBN: 1-85702-242-4
Rating: 5/10 (Ratings explained)
This novel has won at least three prizes and is currently being filmed with John Travolta and Julieanne Moore.Unfortunately I loathed it.
"The Shipping News" chronicles the adventures of Quoyle (no first name) who is persuaded by a forgotten aunt to return to the ancestral home in a remote fishing village in Newfoundland when his wife is killed.His miserable urban experiences are forgotten as he becomes an accepted part of his new community.
Not the most original of tales perhaps but one would expect some charm in its telling. However
Proulx throws in so many other, often jarring, ingredients that it becomes difficult to discern where the novel is going.
For a start there's a heavy lesbian subtext. Quoyle,a lunk described in the most unflattering terms,gets an exceedingly raw deal from the heterosexuals in his family, his cruel sneering father,spiteful brother and nymphomaniac wife but is redeemed by his lesbian aunt who arrives on the scene like his fairy godmother.Proulx is also eager to display her own knowledge of practical matters from the running shipping knots motif which heads each chapter to the long boring descriptions of Quoyle mending his roof or someone building a boat.
Besides this the tone is uneven.The first few chapters set in New York are excessively bleak and cruel,culminating in the grotesque when Quoyle's wife Petal (a character whose sheer nastiness is way over the top ) sells their daughters to a paedophile.They leave such a sour taste that one is unwilling to accept florid descriptions of the Newfoundland seascape a few chapters later coming from the same pen.
Other quirks are just irritating.Proulx feels free to dispense with verbs,prepositions and pronouns as she sees fit leaving many ungrammatical sentences.This is okay if there's some pace in the narrative to justify cutting the corners but as "The Shipping News" is a fairly slow-moving series of vignettes with no real plot,that hardly applies here.There's also no apparent reason why all the characters have been given silly names, for example Quoyle's new love interest is saddled with the name Wavey.
I should add as a postscript that I read this to participate in my local reading group and
everyone else loved it!
Buy The Shipping News at amazon.co.uk
Buy The Shipping News at amazon.com