The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

the shipping news

After writing a number of reviews for South Dublin Reads, I have decided it’s about time that I review one of my favourite books – Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News.

While Proulx is probably best known for gay cowboy classic Brokeback Mountain, The Shipping News, published in 1993, won her both the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the US National Book Award for Fiction. It is a wonderful piece of work, languorous and moving, beautifully bringing to the life the story of protagonist Quoyle and the small Newfoundland town of Killick-Claw.

The Shipping News concerns a few years in the life of Quoyle, a lonely man with who, in an effort to get over the tragic end to a disastrous relationship, moves with his aunt and two young daughters back to his ancestral home on Newfoundland. While the plot of the Shipping News hinges around Quoyle and his journey to this new life, the star of the show is undoubtedly Newfoundland itself, stark and bleakly beautiful. There is a wonder to the icebergs clinking in the bay, the fog “against the window like milk”, the tumultuous sea.

Newfoundland shapes the characters, their considerations and motivations are reflected by the island. For example, this paragraph concerning Quoyle in the early stages of the book; “His thoughts churned like the amorphous thing that ancient sailors, drifting into arctic half-light, called the Sea Lung; a heaving sludge of ice under fog where air blurred into water, where liquid was solid, where solids dissolved, where the sky froze and light and dark muddled.”

Over the years I’ve found The Shipping News has polarised readers. Some I’ve recommended it to have dismissed it as too slow, too exhaustive or Proulx’s literary style as too descriptive.

I am no longer friends with those people.

The Shipping News is an unhurried, slow-burning read. There is great joy to be had from watching the characters open and evolve, their wit and charm and harshness imbued with the salt of the Newfoundland air. My admiration for this book is so enduring, I plan on visiting St. John’s this summer to eat some seal flipper pie and watch the icebergs sail by…. Reading it might encourage you to do the same.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

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