Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Shipping News

This is a beautiful book that I've taken great pleasure from reading over the past few weeks. E. Annie Proulx carries a beautiful metaphor of knots throughout the book and gives language you can savour--words that your imagination can use to create something richer and truer than a picture alone. Here are the opening paragraphs, just to give an example:

Here is an account of a few years in the life of Quoyle, born in Brooklyn and raised in a shuffle of dreary upstate towns.

Hive-spangled, gut roaring with gas and cramp, he survived childhood; at the state university, hand clapped over his chin, he camouflaged torment with smiles and silence. Stumbled through his twenties and into his thirties learning to separate his feelings from his life, counting on nothing. He ate prodigiously, liked a ham knuckel, buttered spuds.

His jobs: distributor of vending machine candy, all-night clerk in a convenience store, a third-rate newspaperman. At thirty-six, bereft, brimming with grief and thwarted love, Quoyle steered away to Newfoundland, the rock that had generated his ancestors, a place he had never been nor thought to go.

Early on in the book a widowed Quoyle heads off to a new job in Newfoundland with his two young children, Bunny and Sunshine, and an eccentric old aunt, who appears out of the woodwork, with a tragic, secret story of her own. Proulx proceeds to write life into the people of The Rock and creates an endearing community of characters that are, at one and the same time, both bizarre and beautiful.

What I enjoyed most about this novel was the equation of becoming a Newfoundlander with entering a new religion. Quoyle is baptized in the briny sea, pulled from the water by a man who then symbolically becomes his father figure, hauling him from near-death into rebirth. The same father figure--Jack Buggit--is included in a bizarre reworking of a resurrection scene (I'll leave out the details to save the plot).

There's also an interesting juxtaposition of Newfoundland old and new. I think I'll need to think this through a little more before I can write comments.

I guess the last thing that I'll write for now is that I don't understand how a film could ever do this book justice: it's the text that brings it alive, and there's way too much happening to cram into a 2-hour film. Still, I suppose I'll have to watch the movie version made a few years back and see how it compares...

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