I think that this is two reviews in a row that I read Drew’s post before writing my own because I again was confused after finishing this novel. I am glad that I read Drew’s post before writing it because we have come to much more similar conclusions on this book than the last book I reviewed, Alison Lurie’s Foreign Affairs. I am glad that I finished this book in the deep dark winter of 2013-14, just before an almost unbearable drop in temperature predicted tomorrow. The Shipping News is the perfect book for just such an occasion. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book at this time in my trajectory here in the project, and this time of year as well. If you haven’t read Drew’s post on The Shipping News, do so after reading this post and see how strange this project is.
We are writing these posts a great distance a part from one another. Much has transpired in both our lives in the intervening years probably since he reviewed this book. We walk away from this book with the same reactions. I felt the beginning of this novel was going imprison me in despair for the next weeks as I would struggle through reading it. Though the first few chapters were slow reading, there is a complete shift in tone from the beginning to the middle low period filled with incidental activities that gave me tremendous joy. The expedition which Quoyle goes on with Billy Pretty to the long-forgotten place of his origins is enchanting, bewitchingly beautiful prose that I never wanted to leave. It is a haunting scene that felt like Pound’s Sargasso Sea pulling me in deeper into a strange and off kilter sort of place that will stick with me for some time. There are several moments throughout this book that are beautiful and strange that I will remember long after this project is over. All this being said, as I haven’t done yet in this project, I am going to watch the movie adaptation of this book as soon as I am done writing this post so I can see what a director did with the narrative arch of this story because I could not pin it down. The fact that Quoyle ends up with Wavey seems like a mute point finally addressed in the very last sentence which one might think is what was driving this novel forward, but it didn’t. The force of Proulx’s prose is what drove this novel for me. In addition, Proulx’s depth of knowledge of Newfoundland culture and ways intrigued me completely. Newfoundland seems like the worst place to live on earth, but something about that way of life seems infinitely interesting to me which I believe was the entire point of the book. A question, “Could you live this way?”, “Can you find the beauty in it that I have?”, “Is there any hope for any of us that must eek out our existence in this condition or the gravel-chewing environs of our own experience?” The whimsy and mystery of this novel is what kept me reading and Proulx left all the mystery completely intact which I thought brave and masterful. I appreciated this novel very much except for what might seem like an enormous pitfall which was that the work is completely missing a plot.