The Shipping News is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. A tragic comedy, that leaves your heart confused about whether you should laugh or cry. I found it by accident in a small window of a used bookstore in Sea Point. Felt disappointed that this was all they had that looked somewhat appealing to read. It was R15 (about $1.50). Best dollar fifty ever spent.
Set along the rugged coast of Newfoundland, this is a true Canadian tale written in the Irish-influenced slang about fishermen, lobster pie, Northern storms, and a little local newspaper called The Shipping News.
Annie Proulx won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, as well as the Irish Times National Book Award, for this gorgeously poetic story of hardship and love on the Atlantic. A broken man, battered by life and his horrible wife (whom he loves desperately and unconditionally), struggles to make it as a journalist in New York. When his wife dies in a blessed car accident, he begins a search for where he came from: the most remote corner of the Maritimes.
His family heritage turns out to be rather dark and depressing, but he has his two young, aberrant daughters with him, and the novel takes on a charm and humor that stems from the contradictions between life and death, delight and despair.
Each chapter begins with a short quote from “The Ashley Book of Knots”, describing and illustrating unique types of knots and their function. For example, the first knot is a “Quoyle: a coil of rope…a Flemish spiral of one layer only made on deck, so that it may be walked on if necessary.” Quoyle is also the name of the despairing protagonist. The knots run parallel to the events in the story, metaphors for tangled lives and how to protect against calamities, secure one’s fate in high winds and raging seas.
The unrestricted imaginations of his daughters shed light on the possibilities in life, with their wittiness and boundless belief in the supernatural. And the heartfelt benevolence of the people he encounters in his homeland shows Quoyle that he still has love to give. That it did not all die in the shipwreck of his life thus far.