Book Notes: "The Shipping News" by Annie Proulx

The Shipping NewsThe Shipping News by Annie Proulx

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have wanted to read The Shipping News since I first learnt of its Pulitzer Prize winning credentials in The Bulletin back in the 'nineties. I am not usually a fan of recent fiction but this work is very good. A back cover review cited from The Sunday Telegraph wrote of the style as "compressed" and "poetic" and this mirrors my own thoughts on the prose. What impresses me most about Proulx is that she did not publish her first novel until she was in her fifties, and The Shipping News is a masterpiece, proving that it is still possible to flower in the latter stages of middle-age. Having travelled briefly through The Maritimes, specifically Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, the novel brought back memories of the frozen sea and the various shanties along the coast of New Brunswick. At the time, these sights sent me back to my childhood memories of the television series The Beachcombers (although the series is from the west coast), and what was then that strange land of First Nations peoples, "Mounties" and Quebecois to the north of the United States rarely seen on Australian television. The cold salt air, the smell of seafood, that the sea could be frozen at all - Proulx captures these magnificently while weaving a story of lost souls, like driftwood, colliding with events directed by freezing currents. Towards the end I had to try to piece together the various characters whose individuality tended to blend into one another. In this edition, a typographical error where Bunny is a "he"; and another where the character Tert Card appears as Terd Card, stick in my mind. Nevertheless, on finishing the book I was rewarded with the tingling sensation of a well-written novel and an enlightened story. It was worth the wait, lived up to the expectations that have been built up for me over the last twenty years, and encouraged me to consider expanding my reading program beyond my recent focus on early twentieth-century authors. Will The Shipping News stand the test of time and become a classic? Given that the heartache of dying communities far from the fringes of the burgeoning metropolises continues while shallow urban existence intrigues, when the façade collapses, The Shipping News might just become the "backronym" that first truly captured the phenomenon in quality literature.

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