The shipping news

by Annie Proulx

Paper Book, 1994

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Simon & Schuster, 1994.

Description

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Annie Proulx's The Shipping News is a vigorous, darkly comic, and at times magical portrait of the contemporary North American family. Quoyle, a third-rate newspaper hack, with a "head shaped like a crenshaw, no neck, reddish hair...features as bunched as kissed fingertips," is wrenched violently out of his workaday life when his two-timing wife meets her just desserts. An aunt convinces Quoyle and his two emotionally disturbed daughters to return with her to the starkly beautiful coastal landscape of their ancestral home in Newfoundland. Here, on desolate Quoyle's Point, in a house empty except for a few mementos of the family's unsavory past, the battered members of three generations try to cobble up new lives. Newfoundland is a country of coast and cove where the mercury rarely rises above seventy degrees, the local culinary delicacy is cod cheeks, and it's easier to travel by boat and snowmobile than on anything with wheels. In this harsh place of cruel storms, a collapsing fishery, and chronic unemployment, the aunt sets up as a yacht upholsterer in nearby Killick-Claw, and Quoyle finds a job reporting the shipping news for the local weekly, the Gammy Bird (a paper that specializes in sexual-abuse stories and grisly photos of car accidents). As the long winter closes its jaws of ice, each of the Quoyles confronts private demons, reels from catastrophe to minor triumph--in the company of the obsequious Mavis Bangs; Diddy Shovel the strongman; drowned Herald Prowse; cane-twirling Beety; Nutbeem, who steals foreign news from the radio; a demented cousin the aunt refuses to recognize; the much-zippered Alvin Yark; silent Wavey; and old Billy Pretty, with his bag of secrets. By the time of the spring storms Quoyle has learned how to gut cod, to escape from a pickle jar, and to tie a true lover's knot.… (more)

Media reviews

It has been – astonishingly – fifteen years since I read the novel but its memory is undimmed, its glorious set pieces still vivid before my eyes.
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In E. Annie Proulx's vigorous, quirky novel "The Shipping News," set in present-day Newfoundland, there are indeed a lot of drownings. The main characters are plagued by dangerous undercurrents, both in the physical world and in their own minds. But the local color, ribaldry and uncanny sorts of redemption of Ms. Proulx's third book of fiction keep the reader from slipping under, into the murk of loss.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Aeyan
My inner stickler is sobbing. Buffetted by Proulx's use of incomplete sentences - stand alone prepositional phrases, descriptions in brief, lists with no action - that little niggling voice of grammatical precision railed and ranted...and I deliriously enjoyed every minute of it. Like the weather that thunders and soaks through the novel, Proulx's syntax acts like a force of nature. With a decisive listing of adjectives, she could gather a picture of a character, their emotional state, their demeanor, with very few words, something for which my verbose self has great respect.
Proulx's characters are remarkable. Quirks, nuances, pithy utterances - all contribute to populating the tiny Newfoundland town and surrounding areas. The main character Quoyle is perhaps best known by his synecdoche: his chin. His jutting, highly visible chin, marker of shame for him, resting point for his massive hands in a vain effort to hide its protuberant nature, can best illustrate Quoyle's flummoxed and pusillanimous self. Perhaps my favorite part of this novel (besides the thrill of being beset by incomplete sentences!) is to see the gentle Quoyle adapt to the harsh Newfoundland life, discover the joy of clearing a path through thickening brush to his quiet cove, hop aboard his wreck of a boat and assemble the bones of his new vessel, sloppily gut a fish and then do so as a matter of course, court a mirror of himself and see in her his ability to experience joy. With skill does Proulx unfold this progression of character, in bits and chunks, slowly, as Quoyle with his bulk is wont to do things, but with an incrementally increasing confidence amid confusion that makes him a truly interesting character.
My inner stickler is still sobbing, the baby. Hearty book of cold places, yakking people, rain snow wind, creaking timbers, fishing industry diatribes, glorious sunlight, cod fried and breaded and pied, ocean swells, multiplicity of knots.
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LibraryThing member lit_chick
“Omaloor Bay is called after Quoyles. Loonies. They was wild and inbred, half-wits and murderers. Half of them was low-minded.” (162)

Annie Proulx Rocks. Pun Intended.

Quoyle, protagonist of The Shipping News and known only by his surname, is a huge, miserable lug of a man, a failure-extraordinaire, excoriated by his family and cheated on by his wife. Middle-aged and father of two young daughters, Bunny and Sunshine, he agrees to move with his aunt, Agnis Hamm, back to the land of his roots: Newfoundland. Killick-Claw proves to be his silver lining. He lands a job at a quirky, local newspaper, Gammy Bird, where writes a weekly column, “The Shipping News.” (Part of his charm, the paper owner assures him, is that he doesn’t have a clue what he is talking about). Quoyle settles in, and one new experience follows another: he makes some steadfast friends; experiences some adventure on the high seas; and is in danger of coming of age when he is attracted to local widow, Wavey Prowse.

The Shipping News is a story of Newfoundland and of its people: an isolated, wild, untamable place, populated by characters who are quirky as hell, tough as nails, and salt of the earth. By extension, it is also a story of the sea, glassy and murderous in equal parts. Proulx excels at bringing both place and character to the page. She introduces us to Killick-Claw’s harbormaster, identifying him first by physical appearance, and then by place, as he recalls a storm at sea:
__________

“Diddy Shovel’s skin was like asphalt, fissured and cracked, thickened by a lifetime of weather, the scurf of age. Stubble worked through the craquelured surface. His eyelids collapsed in protective folds at the outer corners. Bristled eyebrows; enlarged pores gave the nose a sandy appearance. Jacket split at the shoulder seams.” (79)

“It never leaves you. You never hear the wind after that without you remember that banshee moan, remember the watery mountains, crests torn into foam, the poor ship groaning. Bad enough at any time, but this was the deep of winter and the cold was terrible, the ice formed on rail and rigging until vessels was carrying thousands of pounds of ice. The snow drove so hard it was just a roar of white outside these windows. Couldn’t see the street below. The sides of the houses to the northwest was plastered a foot thick with snow as hard as steel.” (83)
__________

I think I’ve already made it obvious, but Proulx is genius. Her writing and her tone throughout capture both Newfoundland and its inhabitants beautifully, her sense of place and of character brilliant. Nor does she shy away from political comment, addressing head-on the longstanding economic strife of resource-rich Newfoundland, created in large(st) part by politics and politicians – “those twits in Ottawa.” (285) This is a book I’ve had on my shelf for years that I kept meaning to get to – I’m glad “later” finally arrived. Highly recommended.

“All the complex wires of life were stripped out and he could see the structure of life. Nothing but rock and sea, the tiny figures of humans and animals against them for a brief time.” (196)
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LibraryThing member Joycepa
Quoyle is a fat, hulking lump of a man with an odd-shaped head, a chin so large it more or less deforms his face, and a personality to match the disaster of his appearance.

This, then, is one of the protagonists of The Shipping News.

At 36, after his philandering wife Ruby has died in an automobile accident with her current lover, Quoyle’s aunt persuades him to take his two young daughters sunshine and Bunny and move with her back to the family’s origin, Newfoundland, Canada. After an epic journey in survival, Quoyle and his family arrive in Killick-Claw at the family home—a broken-down wreck of a house that will shelter them but just barely; it needs massive repairs. Quoyle snags a job as a newspaper reporter for the local weekly, the Gammy Bird. He has two main responsibilities: dredging up stories and photos of bloody auto wrecks for the front page, and getting the list of ships in port from the harbormaster—in other words, reporting the shipping news.

An odd duck himself, Quoyle fits surprisingly well into what is a non-conformist community. His seemingly boring job at The Gammy Bird presents him with an unanticipated opportunity for real creative journalism, which he eagerly pursues. He strikes up unlikely friendships with his coworkers and neighbors. An attractive but reserved widow confuses Quoyle who does not understand, given his single experience, that love is not synonymous with pain. These, then, are the elements of the novel which does not “go” anywhere, really, once Quoyle, his closeted lesbian aunt (whose name we never find out), and his two daughters reach Newfoundland.

From this beginning, Proulx has crafted an unusual novel in which the second protagonist is Newfoundland itself—or rather, its way of life as evidenced through the beliefs, speech, actions, and cuisine of as iconoclastic a bunch of characters as you are likely to meet. Proulx uses language to terrific effect, incorporating idiomatic words and phrases that are usually—but definitely not always—revealed in meaning through the context (sooner or later). Clearly she found the cuisine of Newfoundland fascinating if weird and maybe even slightly repellent, just by the way she inserts local dishes into scenes. For example, breakfast “oatmeal with a side dish of bologna” in the Bawks Nest (and what is a bawk?—we never find out).

“Now who’s having the scallops,” said the waitress holding a white plate heaped with pallid clumps, a mound of rice, a slice of bleached bead.
“That was my idea,’ said the aunt, frowning at her pale food, whispering to Quoyle. “Should have gone to Skipper Will’s for squidburgers.”

This is not the stuff of which tourist guides are made. While there are other examples, my favorite revolting meal remains the oatmeal with a side of bologna. Or maybe fried eggs being smashed into fish hash. Hard to pick my favorite virtual nausea.

One of the wilder aspects of The Shipping News is the reporting done in the Gammy Bird. Its readers evidently are riveted by the weekly accounts of rape, child molestation, and other sexual exploits. There are so many—7-10 per week—that at times it seems as if 50% of the male population of that part of Newfoundland is actively engaged in sexual deviancy for the delight and delectation of the other 50% and the entire female population.

Another way in which Proulx uses language is in short, choppy sentences with oddly jarring juxtaposition of adjectives and nouns. It is extremely effective descriptively, giving startling images, at times, of the harsh landscape. Her use of language takes some adjustment on the part of the reader, but once you become accustomed to the rhythm or lack of it and the unusual thrown-together sentences, it becomes addictive.

Even the names have this jarring quality: Al Catalog, Ed Punch, Billy Pretty, Jack Buggit, Tert Card, Nutbeen and Quoyle himself. They stop you as you read, hold you up, startle you at first, until like the prose itself, they become part of the odd, jarring, harsh landscape of Newfoundland.

Adding to the pleasure of the book are the chapter headings, almost all of which are taken from the Ashley Book of Knots, published in 1944. The diagrams are clever, and you practically itch to get a piece of rope in your hands and try the mesh knot, the mooring hitch, and others. I’m proud to say that I now know the difference between the clove hitch ands two half hitches, and what a bight is.

Quoyle and the unfolding of his personality is a marvelously touching story that is told without a whiff of sentiment. In fact, that can be said of the whole book, and I think is Proulx’s view of Newfoundland and everyone in it, and is a large part of the genius of the book. Because make no mistake, this is a modern American masterpiece.
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LibraryThing member verenka
2 thoughts on The Shipping News by Annie Proulx:
- I hate movie covers for paperback editions. Quoyle is described as a big fat man with a huge chin. The cover shows a picture of Kevin Spacey, who is neither fat nor does he have a big chin.
- I hate telegraph style and there was plenty of it in this book.

Both things didn't deter me from actually reading the book and I was surprised how much I liked it despite not being able to get into the Accordeon Crimes by Annie Proulx. And although I didn't like the telegraph style of the Shipping News, I did like the all uppercase headlines thrown in. It read like Quoyle thought of himself as a second rate provincial news story.

The story is set on the edge of the world - Newfoundland, where Quoyle, a loser, moves with his two daughters and his aunt. Having been unsuccessful and trampled upon all his life he needs to go back to his roots to Newfoundland to start all over again and find happiness, satisfaction and even love.
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LibraryThing member AlisonY
This was a definite contender for book of the year for me. I'd seen the film a while back and enjoyed it (Kevin Spacey, Julianne Moore, Judi Dench.. what's not to love), but the novel was even better than I'd hoped.

Quoyle (known by his surname) is one of life's good guys who's perpetually on the wrong side of lady luck. He missed the queue for good looks, is continually laid off from his job, and eventually winds up marrying the worst kind of woman who grinds her heel on his heart on a daily basis. When she's killed in a road accident (no spoiler - on the book jacket) he takes up his aunt's offer to take his two young daughters back to the family's homeland in Newfoundland for a new start.

This is an incredibly atmospheric book - life on Newfoundland feels so vivid, from the taste of the seafood to the grey winter days, the swelling seas and the camaraderie between the townsfolk who help turn Quoyle's life around. There is enough plot to keep you turning the pages, and yet it's gentle and unrushed, with writing that's made to be savoured.

This is a book that deserves a great review, but I'm totally knackered and incapable of stringing any eloquent sentences together. Just trust me - it's brilliant.

5 stars - a book that truly deserves a future re-read.
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LibraryThing member parrot_person
Pretentious language. I didn't care about the characters. Hadda read it for school.
LibraryThing member kambrogi
Quoyle is an overweight loser with a cruel past, stuck with no friends or relatives, a dead-end job and a beloved wife who is inventively cruel. After the worst tragedy he can imagine, his only hopes are his two small children, one of whom is decidedly peculiar, and a mysterious aunt who shows up to help out. When they set off for Newfoundland, in the direction of his dubious family roots, adventures of a startling nature ensue. Although the story’s details are rather grim – haunting visions, shocking tragedies, brutal weather, shipwrecks and people dying right and left -- one is surprised and delighted by sudden scraps of wit that are likely to provoke a laugh-out-loud response. All of this told in a voice like a journalist talking with a cigar in his mouth, spouting poetry. Finally, a growing crowd of charming, quirky characters joins hands to move the story toward small triumphs and great truths, and it all ends too soon, no matter how slowly you read. An absolute gem of a book.… (more)
LibraryThing member bobsegerini
It was choppy. That writing style. Kind of jarring. And dull. As stories go. Very dull.
LibraryThing member WittyreaderLI
A friend of mine read this book and told me that I should read it. I took his advice on it. And I was severely disappointed. As a rule, I read an book 100 pages before putting it down. That way I can decide whether or not it is worth reading any more additional pages. In this case, I was glad that I stopped. This book is an award winner, which attracted me to it, and has weird characters as well, which is also a plus. But I really couldn't get into this novel and the author's very eccentric writing style. I can definitely see the appeal in this book; the characters seem to be well constructed, but I simply got bored. Maybe I should have read on, but why read on when there are so many more books to read?… (more)
LibraryThing member kettle666
One of the greatest novels of recent times, its fresh prose still sings, and its brilliant combination of humour and insight into the human condition will ensure this novel endures. A great classic of modern literature, it remains the author's masterpiece. She is rich in fresh phrases, and her characters have a convincing presence. Several of them have taken over my house, I swear.… (more)
LibraryThing member MarianV
This is not a book for fans of action & adventure. it is rather, a story of a man & his family, after suffering a loss, move to a new environment (Nova Scotia) & very slowly & carefully build new lives. Their progress is not steady, but it is real. Relationships start to thrive, then wither, then begin again. The characters are people we care for. The setting is enlightening for one who has not lived on the coast of an ocean. The title "Shipping News" comes from the column the hero writes for the local newsaper. The news in the novel, however, is about much more than shipping.… (more)
LibraryThing member KarlNarveson
Sophisticated Writer Sketches Local Characters

The author's bio says she "lives in Vermont and Newfoundland", which is to say she lives in Newfoundland as an outsider and can therefore tell us more about it than we are likely to hear from anyone who lives only in Newfoundland. Proulx's vivid observations of Newfoundland life and speech come to us primarily through the mediating consciousness of her protagonist Quoyle, born in the United States to a Newfoundlander, who as college dropout and newspaperman has so little going for him that he can plausibly be drawn back to Newfoundland by family ties and the prospect of a newspaper job. There he is instructed by his managing editor in the art of gratifying the readership with pictures of car wrecks, stories about perverts, and helpful hints for home life.
Taking her own character's advice, the author makes sure to pepper her plot with plenty of gruesome misfortunes, though the disasters that threaten the central characters are always narrowly averted. This authorial tenderness extends to the sexual misconduct as well, for the central characters, though wronged by others, themselves remain innocent of evildoing.
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LibraryThing member EllieM
Wonderfully atmospheric. Your can almost feel the cold and taste the salt on the sea breeze. Don't be put off if you did not like the film, this book is excellent
LibraryThing member DeusXMachina
It took me ages to finish this book, and in hindsight I'm not exactly sure why. Perhaps because Quoyle is such an antihero that it's hard to take him seriously, especially at the beginning when he's drowning in grief over the death of his bitch of a wife. Additionally, Proulx's uncommon, fragmented writing style was something I had to get used to.

Once Quoyle, his daughters and his aunt had finally settled in their ancestral home at Newfoundland's coast and I had settled into the voice of the prose, I gradually fell in love. With the characters, each of them quirky, rough-edged personalities swaying between tragedy and hilariousness, and with the landscape which is almost a character in itself - rough, dangerous and deadly, but at the same time providing its inhabitants with everything they need for their survival.

Over the course of this story, Quoyle settles into his new life; what has started as an escape from the failure that his life in the US was becomes the beginning of something new. And in the end, I had - like Quoyle - the feeling that I had found a family in this little village.
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LibraryThing member Jannes
Wonderful, poetic and mesmerizing. I'm not sure how to properly categorize it, and yet I can't resist the temptation to try: it's a middle-age coming of age-story, A travelogue of Newfoundland, a reflection on the progress of our modern age and it's influence on society, all roled up in one. And it's about the sea, of course, and the people who make o living from it and are dependent on it. And love it in their way. Proulx somehow pulls of letting the chacters be theese tall-tale eccentric local figures, while at the same time giving them all rich personalities and believable faces.

I've never lived on the coast of Newfoundland, so I'm not in any position to comment on realism, but to me it feels genuine and true - sympathetic, yet unflinching, and never condescending or sentimental about the "old ways" ant it'sabout poverty, isolation, hardship, and helplessness.

I liked it much more than I thought I would.
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LibraryThing member siubhank
THE SHIPPING NEWS is a touching,atmospheric, and somewhat funny look at a man who needed just a little push (or a big boost) in the right direction to get his life on track.
From all outward appearances, Quoyle,a patient, self-deprecating, oversized hack writer, has gone through his first 36 years on earth as a big schlump of a loser. He's not attractive, he's not brilliant or witty or talented, and he's not the kind of person who typically assumes the central position in a novel. But Proulx creates a simple and compelling tale of Quoyle's psychological and spiritual growth.
Following the deaths of his abusive parents and adulteress wife, Quoyle moves with his two daughters and straight-thinking aunt, Agnes Hamm, back to the ancestral manse in Killick-Claw, a Newfoundland harbor town of no great distinction. Quoyle, with minimal experience as a newspaper man in New York, gets a job at the local newspaper, the Gammy Bird, recording the weekly shipping news, doing features on visiting ships, and covering local car wrecks. Agnes continues her business of upholstering ship and yacht interiors, and Quoyle's little girls settle into school and day care.
Killick-Claw may not be perfect, but it is a stable enough community for Quoyle and Family to recover from the terrors of their past lives. But this is more than Quoyle's story: it is a moving re-creation of a place and people buffeted by nature and change.
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LibraryThing member FizzyLizzy
I just finished The Shipping News by Annie Proulx, winner of the Pulitzer in 1994. It was an incredibly enjoyable read. The story follows Quoyle, a thirty-six year old third-rate journalist, whose life changes dramatically after his polyadulterous wife gets what's coming to her in a violent car crash. He and his two children move to Killick-Claw, Newfoundland, his ancestral home, with his aunt with whom he previously had little contact. He finds a job at the Gammy Bird the local newspaper whose coverage is designed mostly to attract and titillate readers.
What's great about this novel is that we get to watch the metamorphosis of Quoyle from an impotent, victimized, and hapless character with no real direction or home, to a man who develops his own sense of empowerment and value. All of this change is woven in with his family's dark past. The Quoyles don't have a great reputation in Killick-Claw; in the past they were known as the misfits and malcontents. Quoyle and his aunt manage, through developing their own reputations based on personal merit, to forge a new generation of Quoyles who are a vital part of the well-being of the community.
Entwined in the story is a haunting and delicate sea mysticism that works nicely with the plot as a whole. Newfoundland is almost an invisible character in the story, and I almost imagined its spirit helping to work the changes in both the Quoyles and the community.
I don't have time to continue this at present, so I will end by recommending the book to you. I haven't seen the movie, but I will Netflix it. I expect disappointment, but that goes without saying.
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LibraryThing member Ched
The novel just didn't make enough sense to me. I liked what Annie Proulx wanted to do with the knots, but I think she wasted the idea by not doing enough with it. The writing, also, gets tiring, so much that I just wanted to get the book over with and move on to the next one. The characters would have been interesting if the reader could have gotten to know them better. There just wasn't enough in the story to keep me hanging on, to keep me wanting to know about life in Newfoundland. I liked the ending, though; or maybe I just liked that I was finally done with the book.… (more)
LibraryThing member electrascaife
Quoyle, a reporter in his thirties who is fairly rotten at his job, loses his parents, his cheating wife, and nearly loses his two small daughters as well, before deciding to move back to his family home in Newfoundland with his aunt to try to turn his life around.
I'm afraid that this one just wasn't for me. The story is bleak and mean, the characters unlikable, and writing to match - too sparse and in the wrong ways.… (more)
LibraryThing member rayski
A family returns back to their native home in Newfoundland, to a simpler life. There they uncover dark family secrets, learn to move on with their lives and eventually grow.
LibraryThing member hellbent
My interest in this novel was its setting in Newfoundland, which I visited in 1971 and retains a rustic culture unique to Canada. I think that the author has captured this culture, altough her plot was slow-paced, if not difficult to detect. The character development was shallow and it was not really until the last two chapters the story went anywhere and for that reason, seemed a little contrived, not unlike a murder mystery, where suddenly all the pieces of the puzzle are neatly arranged and the story ends.… (more)
LibraryThing member amerynth
I really loved Annie Proulx's "The Shipping News," the story of Quoyle, a big lump of a man whose emotions run flat as he is pushed and pulled around by his philandering wife Petal. After losing most of what ties him down, he moves with his children and an aunt he'd never met to his ancestral home in Newfoundland to start a new life reporting the shipping news.

I liked Proulx's style -- short crisp newspaper like sentences and her use of knots at the start of each chapter to describe the changes in her characters. As Quoyle changes, the pace of the book moves from slow and methodical to near-blistering... I took a half a star off just because the last few chapters seemed too jarring to me -- tying everything up at the end as quickly as possible. Overall, a really wonderful and interesting story.
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LibraryThing member Audacity88
The first three chapters are difficult to read, but set the stage for a pleasant and interesting story.
LibraryThing member docpacey
A man from a family with nothing to recommend it returns to his ancestral home to find himself. Marked by quirky characters and poetic prose The Shipping News takes the reader to the wind scoured shores of Newfoundland to discover, with Quoyle, the meanings of life, death, love and family.
LibraryThing member sturlington
About three-quarters of the way through this novel, I found myself silently pleading with the author not to let anything bad happen to the characters I had come to know. That’s when I realized that I had also come to care about these characters and their lives.

The main character is Quoyle, a big, introverted man who is self-consciously aware of all his faults and failings, and who stumbles his way through life without planning or design. He becomes a newspaperman by happenstance, then falls into a lopsided marriage with a philandering woman who dies in a car accident while in the act of leaving him for another man — but not before she gives him two daughters, whom he loves almost painfully. After his wife’s death, Quoyle allows his only relative, whom he refers to as “the aunt,” to persuade him to move to their long-abandoned family home in Newfoundland.

Newfoundland comes across as a bleak, godforsaken place, where drowning accidents and child abuse are commonplace. Storms, winter, unemployment and deep-fried foods plague the people who live there. The house they return to is without electricity or bathrooms, literally bolted to the bare rock. But despite himself, Quoyle makes a home in Newfoundland, and begins to build a life. He lands a job on the local newspaper reporting the shipping news, makes friends and even meets a woman. Through his eyes, we see the good-hearted side of Newfoundland, as well as all the depressing aspects of life there.

Proulx tells her story of a quiet man rebuilding his life with warmth and good humor. One particular scene, of a raucous, drunken party in the trailer of Quoyle’s colleague, made me grimace and laugh out loud at the same time. Even though Proulx never writes a complete sentence when a fragment will do (which I found a little annoying), this novel gathered me in and made me care. By the end, I was heartily rooting for Quoyle to find the happiness he didn’t think he deserved.
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