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The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
Published by Fourth Estate, 1994

Quoyle is the main character in "The Shipping News". He is described as a "great damp loaf of a man." His father disliked him, his brother teased him and his childhood seems to have been generally miserable. He falls in love with a woman with the unlikely name of Petal Bear and though he loves her hopelessly she treats him very badly. "There was a month of fiery happiness. Then six kinked years of suffering". They have two daughters Bunny and Sunshine. Inevitably, Petal Bear leaves him but is killed in a car crash. She had earlier tried to sell her daughters to a porn movie-maker. Quoyle rescues the young girls but his life is devoid of hope until the arrival of his aunt Agnis. She relates tales of her childhood in Newfoundland and he is encouraged to make a fresh start in the land of his ancestors. He moves to Killick Claw, Newfoundland with his aunt and two daughters. There, he gets a job as reporter of shipping news on a local newspaper called "The Gammy Bird". The staff is made up of many eccentric characters. As well as the shipping news, Quoyle reports on car wrecks in the area - a photo and article printed each week "whether we have a wreck or not." Life here is harsh, particularly in Winter, and the abandoned ancestral home is in a bad state of repair. Against all the odds they set out to renovate it. Meanwhile, Bunny, Sunshine and the aunt are also dealing with the many traumas in their lives. Gradually, Quoyle begins to feel attracted to a local widow, Wavey Prowse. Can they recover from their sad and tragic past?

The story unfolds slowly and continues at this pace throughout the book. Some members of the Book Club found the story depressing, gloomy and tragic. Newfoundland is an icy, harsh land and the foggy coastline seems to permeate the book. There is an almost cruel humour running through it. Those who liked the book (and some loved it!) say it is beautifully written poetic and very atmospheric. Annie Proulx captures the local speech patterns perfectly. "The Shipping News" won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1994.

Reviewed by a local Book Club