The Shipping News: A Review

The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx was a reread for me. I had read it when I was in junior high, probably too young as I still remember the shock of reading the words "cunt juice" in the book and knowing well enough what it was but not really knowing what it was either. I had been taken with the book, the scenes had stood out vividly to me and I had been completely attached to the characters.

I'd been meaning to reread this treasured favorite of mine for a while, but of course always found reason to read a new book instead. Finally, after we moved and I was feeling a little melancholy for the familiar, I thought when better to reread an old favorite of mine?

Immediately I was shocked at how choppy Proulx's writing was. I didn't remember noticing that before, I only remember being completely sucked into the story. Proulx's style isn't careless choppiness, it is deliberate and artistic and I was able to appreciate it for that, but also, it's not my favorite style of writing to read. I tend to like writing the flows a bit more, but that's just tastes, no comment on her skill. The novel was well written and with a cast of the most interesting characters and an original story.

Quoyle is one of those protagonists that you simultaneously sympathize with and want to knock upside the head. He's stuck in his cycle of chronic low self esteem and more or less tortures himself with it by letting people abuse him relentlessly. After a disturbing incident almost loses him his daughters, Quoyle's aunt convinces him to move to Newfoundland with her, the place of his ancestors. In a journey that tests him and frees him, this is a coming of age story for Quoyle that just happens to happen when he's thirty-six. It's a story about love and pain and ultimately a story of second chances. The characters are lively and likable and the story is hopeful and yet real. There's no fairy tale here, but it paints a very real picture of love. One that isn't necessarily full of pain and passion like in all the movies, but a love that is respectful and kind, calm and content. And it also speaks to that self growth and discovery of finding your place in the world and finding your self respect.

I remember watching the movie when it came out and being pissed off by it. It had quite the cast, Kevin Spacy, Julianne Moore, Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, but they didn't seem right. Quoyle was grossly obese and Kevin Spacey, despite his tenacity at playing losers, didn't fit the bill. Wavey was skinny and somewhat homely looking and Julianne Moore just didn't fit the build either. Of course I watched the movie long ago and perhaps they portrayed the characters well enough to overcomes these physical oversights, I really don't remember. I think I was mostly upset that Quoyle wasn't grossly obese in the movie as I felt that was one of the main parts of the book and his psychology. I will try to get my hands on the movie again soon and revisit it as I have found out through this experience that revisiting often presents different results. I was a little disappointed that I wasn't as captivated by the book the second time around as I was when I first read it, but then I decided that I didn't have to let go of those vivid emotions and images the book brought up in me the first time and that I can kind of combine those with the new insight I gathered from the book this time that I couldn't grasp at my younger age. The combination of these two experiences reading the book has made it a fuller experience and I look forward to reading it once again perhaps in another ten years to see what that experience will yield.


It will be my goal to try to reread a book every five new books I read, just so I don't forget my old favorites and so I can experience an old beloved book in a new way with new insights.


Anonymous said...

Another example of how Hollywood has to make things more paltable to viewers. Although I didn't mind the movie. They captured the haunting, isolated feel. But then again I read the book years ago too so don't remember it too well. The most vivid image for me is the editor at the newspaper office who gives the reporters assignments based on their most horrible experience and the mention of a three year old child being taught to perform fellatio. Still feel icky when I remember that.

mai wen said...

I'm really interested in re-watching the film to see what I think second time around. Though it annoys me that Hollywood wasn't brave enough to cast an obese person for the lead roll, I think I could get over it second time around and focus more on the rest of the movie.

And I know, ugh, those sexual abuse stories in the book were brutal! I mean, it'd be just a whole paragraph of them! Very Icky.

Elizabeth Krecker said...

I read this book a long time ago, too, and also remembered it fondly. I lived in Maine for about a year, and the characters in the book seemed so real to me. Too real, some of them.

To tell you the truth, I avoided the movie for fear the book would lose it's charm. Maybe I'll give it a go now. Sometimes I've found that seeing the movie long after having read the book helps - the themes of the book gel a little better and the movie doesn't seem so wanting.

Thanks for all the reviews!

mai wen said...

You know I just re-watched the movie and liked it better than I remember. It definitely takes some liberties from the book and I think wasn't as memorable as the book, but it was good. You just have to go into it knowing that it does Hollywood it a bit.


blogger templates | Make Money Online