My friend told me about this book years ago and has asked me several times if I have read it. After seeing the film with Kevin Spacey and Judi Dench about 4 times and loving it, I pounced on this copy in an Oxfam Shop.
It is the story of a man called Quoyle, a bit of a no-mark, overweight, bullied by his father and bumbling through his existence apologetically. When his wayward wife dies in a car accident he takes off with his 2 children, following his aunt to Newfoundland, to resurrect the family home. The Quoyle's have lived there for generations going way back. It is a chance for both to start again. Quoyle gets a job with the local newspaper, The Gammy Bird, doing the Shipping News and Car Wrecks. Slowly Quoyle finds his place in the world. The cold, harsh landscape of his ancestors, the warmth of the friends he makes at work and in the town all help him survive this turning point in his life and make the most of it.
The back of the book says it is 'an irresistable comedy of human life and possibility', and this pretty well sums up the feel of this story. It is really funny, mainly due to Proulx's sharp and punchy sentences which illustrate all of the cadences of each delicious character.
'Here is an account of a few years in the life of Quoyle, born in Brooklyn and raised in a shuffle of dreary upstate towns.
Hive-spangled, gut roaring with gas and cramp, he survived childhood; at the state university, hand clapped over his chin, he camouflaged torment with smiles and silence. Stumbled through his twenties and into his thirties learning to separate his feelings from life, counting on nothing. He ate prodigiously, liked a ham knuckle, buttered spuds.
His jobs: distributor of vending-machine candy, all-night clerk in a convenience store, a third-rate newspaperman. At thirty-six, bereft, brimming with grief and thwarted love, Quoyle steered away to Newfoundland, the rock that had generated his ancestors, a place he had never been nor thought to go.'
This is the opening to the book and it instantly put me behind Quoyle, willing him to find a way out of his drudgery. All of the characters are explored with enough information to understand their motivation, and there are many people to care about. Proulx infuses each one with warmth and humour, but also with fallability. They felt very real to me as I read.
I also loved the location, the freezing cold, raw Atlantic coast, infused with myths and tales of survival. The steamy interiors that battled the cold and gave refuge. I was reluctant to let it go when I finished the book.
You have probably cottoned on by now that I loved it. I wanted to be there, with the house strapped to the rock by metal ropes that sang in the wind, or drinking tea in The Flying Squid Lunchstop with everyone who knows each other, listening to the icebergs clanking in the bay. I cared a lot about many of the characters. I liked the growing fondness between Quoyle and Wavey, not over romanticised, but real and gentle. I also liked the way both of their names compliment each other, curving shapes around both of them.
I loved this book because it made me laugh and feel lots of things for the people in it and the location. It transported me away each time I picked it up. There are lots of interesting sub-plots and episodes, and nautical themes throughout (each chapter starts with a nautical knot complete with picture). It is a book I will probably read again at some point, and I will definately look out for more by Annie Proulx. Highly Recommended.
A reading group guide can be found here
The Newfoundland Studies Journal have also published an interesting article about the novel.