For some, place is everything. This idea is what makes The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx so magical and enthralling. She sets her novel in Newfoundland and uses the water and the coves and the harbours to help tell her story of how people from Newfoundland interact with each other and the place they live.
I bought this book at a secondhand bookstore (Afterwords Bookstore) in St. John’s, Newfoundland last summer. I went on a week-long adventure without knowing anything about the city except that it had a week-long music festival on George Street. While I was there, I did eat cod and I did get screeched in at Christian’s Bar. I went on long walks up on Signal Hill and watched whales feed on caplin. One night I went out to Cape Spear and stood on the easternmost point in North America and waved to my family across the ocean in England. One of my favourite places to eat while I was there was The Sprout, a delicious place that catered to my food allergies. One of the sections of the novel that stood out to me the most was when Quoyle goes on a boat trip with Billy and Billy is able to describe each rock and each harbor and tell the story that goes with the landmarks. In Newfoundland, it’s all about place.
Source: me, summer 2015
In the novel, Quoyle had a miserable life in the US and moves up to Newfoundland with his Auntie who has the old family home at Quoyle’s Point. He is a sub-par newspaper writer and gets a job in Newfoundland at the newspaper writing the shipping news. Quoyle turns a list into a well-read column. He looked at the history of a ship, the people behind it, and why it’s significant. The opportunity to work at the paper allows him to find a new skill in making something extraordinary out of the ordinary. For Quoyle, the depressed fishing villages of Newfoundland offer him a new start in life and a chance to find confidence in his abilities.
One aspect of the novel that I thought was brilliant was E. Annie Proulx’s writing style. She often wrote Quoyle’s thoughts and observations in headlines. Throughout the entire novel, there are short, chopped sentences. This not only connects to the newspaper career of Quoyle, but also to the place itself: the ocean. Proulx’s writing at times made it feel like you were going up and down on a wave, like in a boat. Genius!
Reading Proulx’s novel was like returning to Newfoundland for short moments in my day. I was immersed in the lives of the people of Killick-Claw and how their lives are dependent on the land and the water around them. What a pleasure it was to read this book and relive a week in my life that changed me.
“The only cities were of ice, bergs with cores of beryl, blue gems within white gems, that some said gave off an odor of almonds.” (Proulx)
“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)
Source: Christopher Pratt, http://erasing.org/tag/christopher-pratt/