The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx was the second book I tackled for the Canadian Book Challenge. A friend mentioned she found it depressing, but somehow I didn’t feel that despite the stories of hardship, death, abuse. I could tell half way through the book it was going to have a happy ending and it did. I’m not sure about folks from the Prairies, but there was a general consensus last night at a friend’s that Canadians have an affinity for the sea and the oceans, even when they don’t live near one (all present were from Ontario). This came up because a group of us went caroling, and afterwards we had a sing-a-long during which we sang Barrett’s Privateers and Northwest Passage, among other favourites. We just feel a connection to the water for some inexplicable reason.
The Shipping News is about an American fella named Quoyle, pretty much a ‘loser’ – big, good-for-nothing oaf, who manages to get a wife who is a floozy but gives him two daughters that he adores. After the death of his wife and his parents, he decides – with help from an aunt – to go to Newfoundland where his father grew up. Can you imagine a New Yorker just heading up to Newfoundland for the heck of it? I think people often try to run away from their past, but find it follows them wherever they go, and that’s just what happens to Quoyle. Though it seems he figures out that life doesn’t have to be a big downer. It’s all about perspective, isn’t it? Life may throw us many nasty situations and it’s up to us survivors on how we deal with it all.
I’m horrible at explaining why I did or did not like a book, but I’ll try. I think for me I like the storytelling aspect – all the fishermen sitting around with their gossip and their tales. I also like family – seeing how members interact with each other. Of course I also like the sense of place – really ‘seeing’ how a geography with which I am not familiar is described to me. Reading this book was a bit of an experience too; kind of interesting reading passages about storms while standing out in the cold wind and snow (waiting for the bus). Not to mention, there is a large number of Newfoundlanders in this area (you can see NL flags all over the city), and there was this one time when a young woman came on the bus, talking to her friends and she had an accent – not sure if it was Newfoundland or a maritime accent – but definitely from out East. Certainly made it a little surreal.
And that, is book two of the challenge – 11 to go!