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The Shipping News
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51 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on 7 June 2006
Other reviews swing wildy between perfect 5 and damning 1. I'll settle for a contented 4. Only because it took a while to get into the book. Believe me: it's worth it.

Agree that it's hard to sympathise with Quoyle (our, um, hero) in the early chapters. Not the heroic type at all... wounded by his father's totally undisguised favouritism towards his spiteful brother. Overweight and ugly. Lacking self confidence, self control... Nor the clichéd anti-establishment anti-hero. In fact dull, dull, dull......

But hang on. Isn't this every man? Who among us is perfect in mind and body? Fat and unsure of ourselves. Tall, gangly and introspective. Tough on the outside, vulnerable and drawn towards self-destructive behaviour on the quiet.

That's how the book draws you slowly in. Characters may have improbably names, but they're more real than most perfect size 8, gym-toned fiction you'll ever read.

The small kids are drawn so well. Such a rarity in an adult novel.

The island and the sea are characters in themselves. Newfoundland, its inlets and offshore islands, abandoned settlements, pragmatic architecture. Punished by - and yet so dependent on - the sea, like the cruel parents that seem to crop up all too often in the book. Buffeted even more by wavering subsidy from remote government that really cannot see through the fog to get a proper picture of life on the the Rock. By the vagiaries of globalisation....

Sounds depressing. But ultimately a redemptive, quiet, gorgeously imperfect celebration of community and finding the inner strength to accept yourself, for all your flaws and the stuff you found it hard to deal with. I'll read it again and again.
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46 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on 8 August 2001
I can't believe it has taken me so long to discover 'The Shipping News'. Not just a soul enhancing story but a beautiful and refreshing narrative style. I have never come across a writer like Proulx, her mastery of prose and particulary description is unforgettable. From the first page I knew I was delving into something remarkable.
Reading this I was absoultely transported to life in Newfoundland. The cold, the ice, the wind and the danger all penetrated my imagination and I was frozen stiff reading most of it!
A tragedy with a loveable oaf as a hero, the unforgettable stalwart aunt with her grief and her memories, children with a hope for the future away from modern times. Escape into a harsh world which demands courage and resolution, but the rewards and the education the Quoyle family receive is touching and satisfying.
A tale of loss, history, roots, grief and new beginnings. Never does Proulx weave her plot through rose tinted spectacles and soft nostalgia, rendering this novel as among the best I have ever read.
There is a very naked truth in this novel and it will grind you hard. I'd call it catharsis.
Read this. It's an exploration.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Quoyle has a disastrous marriage to Petal and he is left with two small children following her death in car accident. He returns to Newfoundland with his Aunt to start again and gets a job at the local paper reporting on car accidents and shipping news. One of his daughters has emotional difficulties and has nightmares and "sees things". Their old family house is still there and they begin to renovate it but live in the town during the winter. Soon he meets Wavey, another damaged soul, a widow whose son has Downs Syndrome.

The flow of narrative is truncated by choppy dialogue and a sharply abridged disjointed plot. It is an odd writing style - lots of "half sentences". As the story progresses, the threads of plot slowly come together, creating a picture of life on the windswept coast of Newfoundland. There are some wonderfully drawn characters and lots of very funny asides.

The tough climate seems to produce some very tough characters who can withstand any disaster life throws at them.

I enjoyed it immensely.

A lovely feel good ending.
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on 31 January 2001
I have just about finished reading this book for the 2nd time. I read it about a year ago and it has stayed in my memory so much I had to read it again. The book transports you to the cold and icy Newfoundland where Quoyle finds himself after leaving the tragedy of his 'other' life behind, and doesn't let you forget it even after the final word has been read. And whilst the book is not full of laughs or semtimentality, still through the bleakness and the melancholy is a feeling of hope, of identifying with Quoyle and to some extent with the other characters like the Aunt, Wavey Prowse and even Bunny and Sunshine Quoyle. I found putting the book down extremely difficult, thinking 'just another page'. Proulx drew me into the knot of Quoyle's life and emotions, and I felt more that I was watching events rather than reading about them. I would recommend this truly amazing, touching and thought-provoking book to anyone.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 26 November 2001
I bought this book on impulse, after a recommendation. The cover and quotes from various members of the literary world sang its praises too, so I was expecting a masterpiece when I opened the book.
However, I was initially disappointed, as the writing seemed lacking in some way. Characterisation, similarly, appeared shallow. The writing style is also slightly off-putting, as the writer is sparing with the use of adverbs and the definite article. Nevertheless, I ploughed on, as something kept me reading. I'm glad I did, as the characters did indeed come to life, and the prose became beautifully descriptive.
It is difficult to bond with Quoyle at first; you feel pity for the poor man who seems to have been a victim all his life. He acts like a drip where his wife, Petal, is concerned. After the loathsome wife dies, Quoyle comes into his own, helped along the way by his stout-hearted woman - The Aunt.
What follows is a story of new beginnings for Quoyle. The courage he has in facing new challenges is admirable, and the path his life takes becomes an enlightenment and lesson for us all.
The beauty of it is that it is a story that doesn't pretend to be something it isn't. It's not a serious account of life in Newfoundland, merely a representation of a man trying to be a good father and find his place in life.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 April 2013
E. Annie Proulx 1993 award-winning novel is an evocatively told tale of a family's struggle to survive in the remote community of Newfoundland (a Canadian province off the north-east coast of the American continent). Although Proulx's concise (staccato, even) prose style takes a little bit of getting used to, she writes in such a descriptive and poignant style that it did not (for me) detract from the appeal of the novel.

The Shipping News tells the tale of misfit newspaperman Quoyle, who, following the suicide of his parents and death of his promiscuous wife, Petal, takes off with his two infant daughters, Bunny and Sunshine, together with his (paternal) aunt Agnis Hamm, on a journey back to his ancestral home in remote Newfoundland. What follows is an idiosyncratic tale of small-town life as Quoyle is offered a job at the local newspaper, writing about (along with any sensationalist stories such as spectacular car crashes!) the 'shipping news', that is, accounts of ship movements in and out of the local port. Proulx evokes the intimate atmosphere of her isolated community brilliantly, as Quoyle's daughters befriend their neighbours, Quoyle initiates a romantic liaison with local woman Wavey Prowse, whilst his aunt pursues her career of upholstering.

One of the main themes of Proulx's impressive novel is that of the power of nature, as a key obstacle to the Quoyles making a go of their new life is the extreme climate that comes with the long winters and violent arctic storms of their new environment. These present continuing threats to the family's existence (house, boat, etc) and to that of other members of the local fishing community. As her principal character Quoyle searches for his own identity and for his family's security, Proulx also addresses profound issues such as the meaning of death (viewed particularly from Quoyle's children's perspective) and the impact of heredity on later generations (as Quoyle happens upon a long-lost and destitute cousin among the local community).
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on 11 March 2002
I read this book on the recommendation of a friend and have now thanked him profusely. The style of Proux's writing is unusual and takes a bit to get used to and the story isn't especially gripping, yet you are drawn to her well drawn characters, as you get to know their foibles and eccentricities. The main character of Qouyle is not a typical hero in the sense that at first he seems to have few redeeming qualities and seems a pathetic man who would hold no interest for a whole novel, yet he does. You see him as a father, a nephew, a shy man getting to know an equally shy woman and a stranger gradually becoming accepted into a place. The place itself, also being a character in the novel described in beautiful detail by the author. I highly recommend the book.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 21 July 2011
The central character of "The Shipping News" is Quoyle- we never learn his Christian name-, a thirty-something journalist with a local newspaper in upstate New York. Quoyle is physically unattractive- we are repeatedly told about his big chin-, does not enjoy his work, and his private life is a mess. His parents have committed suicide, and his cold, unloving wife Petal is repeatedly unfaithful to him. When Petal is killed in a car accident along with one of her lovers, Quoyle decides to escape to Newfoundland, where his family originally comes from. Together with his aunt, Agnis, and his two young daughters, Bunny and Sunshine, Quoyle moves into the old family home near the Newfoundland town of Killick-Claw, and finds a job on the local paper, "The Gammy Bird". (The name is a local dialect term for the eider duck). The book's title derives from the fact that, as part of his duties, Quoyle is expected to report on the movement of ships in and out of the town's harbour.

The central theme of the book is what can be described as Quoyle's emotional healing during his time in Newfoundland. When we first meet him he is traumatised by his experiences with Petal and haunted by the feeling that his life has been a failure. Gradually, however, he is accepted into the community of Killick-Claw, enjoys greater success in his job and begins a romance with Wavey Prowse, a young widow with a handicapped child.

This is a book which appears to divide opinion. Critically it was a success and won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, but a number of reviewers on this site have criticised it severely. Annie Proulx's prose style seems to be particularly controversial. It is characterised by short sentences, with few relatively few dependent clauses, and by a frequent disregard of grammatical conventions, such as sentences which do not contain a finite verb and the omission of certain words, especially subject pronouns and conjunctions. The following passage will give an idea of the sort of thing I mean:-

"Quoyle woke in the empty room. Grey light. A sound of hammering. His heart. He lay in his sleeping-bag in the middle of the floor. The candle on its side. Could smell the wax, smell the pages of the book that lay open before him, the dust in the floor cracks".

Proulx's intention was presumably to make her writing closer to spoken English than to normal literary prose, not only when writing dialogue but also in her narrative passages. (Or possibly, given that her hero is a reporter by profession, to try and reproduce the effect of "journalese"). Whether one likes this sort of thing is very much a matter of personal taste. Personally, I doubt if, on the evidence of this book, Proulx will ever rank among the great prose stylists of American literature. On the other hand, her short, choppy sentences remain perfectly comprehensible, unlike the interminable, over-intricate sentences of those writers (and there are many) who are guilty of the opposite fault. I was interested that one reviewer described this as a "masculine" style; I suspect that if I had been unaware of the writer's sex I would have taken this for a novel written by a man.

Appropriately for a story set in a community of seafarers and fishermen, Proulx's principal source of imagery in this book is the knot. Many of the chapters begin with a quotation from a publication called "The Ashley Book of Knots", consisting of an illustration of the knot in question and a brief description of what it is used for. Each type of knot is in some way connected to the contents of that chapter. For example, at the head of the first chapter is an illustration of a "quoyle", described as "a spiral coil of rope of one layer only. It is made on deck so that it may be walked on if necessary". The obvious implication is that Quoyle himself allows people- especially Petal- to walk all over him.

Overall, the novel is an optimistic one, the main character gradually moving from the darkness of despair and depression into the light of rekindled love and acceptance into a new community. Killick-Claw, despite its harsh climate and the obvious eccentricity of many of its people, is the sort of traditionalist community where everyone pulls together and where outsiders like Quoyle can be welcomed provided they are prepared to fit in with local customs.

And yet I felt that inside this optimistic novel was a much darker, pessimistic one trying to get out. There are indications that the old, traditional Newfoundland was a cruel place, both in the hostility of the elements and in the behaviour of its inhabitants, and that some of this cruelty persists into the present. (One of the "Gammy Bird's" specialities, along with shipping news and photographs of car wrecks, is stories of sexual abuse, of which there always seems to be a plentiful supply). There are also indications of a darkness in Quoyle's own family background, including claims of incest, child abuse and imbecility. Another dark theme arises when Quoyle stumbles upon a murdered body, but this theme is dropped almost as soon as it is introduced; the solution to the murder is mentioned in passing much later. The book as actually written, with its cast of colourful characters, is enjoyable enough, once you get used to Proulx's idiosyncratic prose, but I felt that a deeper exploration of the bleaker side of life on the island could have made for a more interesting novel.
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on 7 February 2015
This is the best satire on life in the US, which is portrayed entirely by omission. I wonder if I am the only reader who regrets the author's changing from a coastal ironist to a desert pot-boiler? I err to start by editorializing on life and writing beyond the book; but when I read this, on its first appearance, I was bowled over. I assigned it to a couple of my community college adult-student classes. Who knew that Newfoundland was in fact a literary center in the 90s, with this and Wayne Johnston's Colony of Unrequited Dreams. (I've often said that Johnston should change both his title and his own name, for a pseudonym. Neither sounds as witty as his book is. Would many 19C Englishmen have read Middlemarch if it were by Mary Ann Evans?)
Both Proulx's and Johnston's books take on an added wonder, and gravity, now that journalism is in serious decline. Both consider what is "news." Both create the world of print journalism--the title organ of Proulx's, and the alternate chapters in Johnston's, by a satiric genius female editorialist. (My major reflection on the death of newsprint is: Who shall replace the titans, the local newspaper editors or owners whose moral judgement spiced and reflected given cites--the Millers of Pittsfield, the Jim Ragsdale of New Bedford? The truth is, no-one replaces them. We simply do not come to moral grips--no need. Much easier for our politicos, and our banks and munitions businesses without moral doubters in print.
Shipping News is filled with dramatic irony, colloquial zingers, and juxtaposition like: "' Be Back for you...after I washes me pots and pans...
'My father..." bawled Quoyle," is dead."
'I know that,' said Tert Card, 'that's not news."
Quoyle sentimentalizes his father, while the reader knows where his ashes are--or are not--buried. "Should they put up a marker" becomes a hilarious question.
The book blossoms with tricks of style like children's profound questions at unexpected moments, linked sentence fragments, staccato catalogs like "the smell of coffee, little kid hubbub, the aunt...," satire on life in the US, natural descriptions using unusual, simple words ("scurf," "screel"). And humor.
Contrarian view of character: the cuckold Quoyle is bigger than his rivals--in several senses--and Bill Pretty is a brilliant gossiper.
I recall this book, much of it aloudread in classes, elicited wonderful papers from my students: On the Interior Life of Children; or, the ingredients of "news," what Inquiring Minds Want to Know (now, acc to TV, mostly about actors, not Africa or Iran or Syria or even Russia). Or they could write themselves into a chapter, by choosing an unusual, Proulx-like name to start.
Those characters' names testify to great inventiveness: Partridge, Petal Bear, Tert Card, Bill Pretty, Diddy Shovel, Mavis Bangs, Wavey Prowse, Jack Buggit.
When I read this novel, I had just crewed on a 38' yacht sailing from Jacksonville to SE Massachusetts. Last two weeks in May, best of the year. I was on the Midnight Watch, could tell where we were by Scorpio Rising--I had been a nightwatchman on a coastal island during college. During the day you could tell we were in the Gulf Stream by the color of the water. But not at night; this was before GPS. I had learned some knots over the years, but I learned more reading Proulx. A friend--and the Introducer of my Birdtalk--is a world-class kayaker who traveled the Newfoundland coast in memory of the Great Auk (see the Nova Special on Richard Wheeler). I had also joined a postdoc NEH seminar on Maritime History, so I brought much to bear on this book, and it did not fail me.
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on 14 July 2013
The story of Quoyle. Quoyle's parents, both terminally ill, commit suicide together. Quoyle is already in a bad marriage. Like a fish out of water Quoyle stumbles around, obviously no good at anything as he has had that fact drummed into him from an early age by his parents and cruel brother. Quoyle's chin, he feels, is too large and he tried to hide it when embarrassed as a child and still does so as an adult. We sympathise with him, having travelled through puberty ourselves and witnessed the sudden lengthening of arms and the feeling that our hands are no longer in the correct plane, that is why we tipped the glass of water!

Written very poetically (kept reminding me of The Bone People by Kerri Hulme for the way it's written) it is a novel to savour. The suicide of Quoyle's parents, mentioned above, goes.............

"It was Spring. Sodden ground, smell of earth. The wind beat through twigs, gave off a greenish odor like struck flints. Coltsfoot in the ditches; furious dabs of tulips stuttering in gardens. Slanting rain. Clock hands leapt to pellucid evenings. The sky riffled like cards in a chalk-white hand.

Father turned off the water heater. Mother watered the house plants. They swallowed their variegated capsules with Silent Nite herbal tea."

This is an allegorical tale of Quoyle (who has our immediate sympathy) and the way he grows. His trip from the mainland to Newfoundland, is a rebirth. From 'fish out of water' he becomes a fish 'in' the water - at one point literally, floundering about until he learns the small town ways and becomes a happy fish in happy waters. It is not so much that the character develops, as the character learns where his roots are, where he should always have been and how to live and survive in the correct environment.

I read the book slowly and in the voice of Garrison Keillor probably associating a Newfoundland voice with that of Minnesota, for some reason.
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