Monday, December 28, 2009

Book review: The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

Caught the last half of the film adaptation of this book on cable years ago and have wanted to read it ever since. Well, finally got around to it...

The mood and atmosphere of Newfoundland that Proulx conjures up in her narrative is astounding. Very unsettling and simultaneously fascinating. A wonderful swirl of grey confusion that engulfs and envelopes the reader, fully immersing them into the story's setting: a rare feat fully accomplished.

However, everything else is a mess.

I also do kind of like that you never know the main character's first name -- only the somewhat cursed surname that he will forever be latched onto within a certain demographic.

But sheesh, the sentence fragments are jarring. Even the characters speak in sentence fragments, ferchrissakes! It seems a nice quirk at the outset, but by chapter 30, you'll still just be reading because you've made it this far and there's no use in not finishing it now.

I've no clue what the story is supposed to mean. Seems to me like some sort of modern day pseudo-existential tale of a late blooming man that is so pitiful he eventually becomes semi-likable just because we, as the reader, are in his head so much. This fact and this fact alone: not because he has endearing qualities that reveal themselves over time, not because he grows and becomes a new man, no; simply because we hear about what he's doing and his thoughts about the events constantly. Eventually, whether you like them or not, you start to care in a twisted sort of way.

And this is where the book becomes more of a soap opera than an actual well told tale.

The ending seems extremely forced and quick. After three hundred pages of dully narrated uneventful drudge, hey he falls in love again and the other guy comes back from the dead... within the last few paragraphs.

Uhhhmm, what?


If you like the mood and ambiance that Albert Camus and Henry James create through pages of meticulous, well-practiced and worthwhile perfected craft, you will find positive, redeeming aspects in the Shipping News. Otherwise, it's got aspects of that mood, but the actual story is negligible, if not completely forgettable.


No comments: