Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Briefly: E. Annie Proulx, The Shipping News (1993)

Proulx, E. Annie. The Shipping News. New York: Scribner, 1993.

The Shipping News on Goodreads

Rating:     7.5/10
Image result for 0-671-51005-3 shipping news


A less than average man is driven by tragedy to Newfoundland, where he must battle the harsh landscape and face the reality of his stained lineage. The fairly straightforward and interesting plot is told through a sparse, evocative style, which many readers have found challenging. The novel is among many to hold a reputation for readers failing to read past the first handful of chapters. Once gripped, as I was at the opening paragraph, a reader can breeze through the book as though it were written in the most straightforward prose. I suppose many readers are simply not gripped by the terse style.

Oft reviewed, I have little to add, and am not interested in engaging in the value of the writing as this is mostly subjective. While I enjoyed it immensely, I do understand why readers can feel distanced from the dry, sometimes harsh tone.

What I am interested in mentioning is the sharp contrast between that dry tone and the abundance of poetic imagery in the novel. With the frequent use of similes and other descriptors, Proulx seems to have worked hard at melding the imagery with the bleak writing. I preferred the bleak tone over the descriptors, but acknowledge the need for balance. Some of the visuals were excellent; my favourite being "Fog against the window like milk," but I found the overuse of similes tiresome, and found myself, in the latter part of the novel, glazing over them, like one might perform a routine chore without realizing it was being performed. The result is that I might have missed some other descriptive gems, and the loss here is my own.

But at least I had the opportunity to build a simile into my criticism of its overuse.


2 comments:

Mathew Paust said...

Yes, I like this: "glazing over them, like one might perform a routine chore without realizing it was being performed." Well done, sir! I read Shipping News a long long time ago, probly soon after it came out. I remember finding the voice and narrative engaging--compelling, even. I don't remember much about the plot, tho, but then I never remember much about plots. Makes it easier to revisit a book whose characters, ambience, and writing I remember fondly, like this one.

Casual Debris said...

Thanks for commenting. I quite liked it and will also no doubt re-read the novel sometime in my old age. And I agree: the atmosphere and writing out-do the plot, so I expect this to become one of those books I too will recall mostly by the impression it left rather than its actual story.

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