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The Shipping News    by E. Annie Proulx order for
Shipping News
by E. Annie Proulx
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 1994
Hardcover, Softcover, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

After having read the book and watched the movie made from The Shipping News (winner of the Pulitzer Prize) some time ago, I recently listened to an abridged audiobook version, masterfully narrated by Robert Joy, who did a fine job of a variety of Newfie accents, for both sexes.

You have to feel for Quoyle, who starts off in the U.S. as the ultimate loser - exploited on the job (as a seasonal reporter for a local paper) and by his coldhearted, selfish wife, Petal. She spends most of her time with other men until she dies - just after his parents kill themselves - in a car accident, leaving him with small Bunny and Sunshine. At this point in his sad life, Quoyle's aunt (Agnis Hamm) arrives to organize him and instigate his return (going against the tide of the usual exodus) to his ancestral home, near the harbor town of Killick-Claw, in Newfoundland. Agnis has plenty of issues of her own - and good reasons for having left so long ago - but is drawn back to the house that held so many terrible memories (what she does with her brother's ashes is only one of the satisfying moments of macabre humor in this absorbing tale).

What pulls the reader/listener through the story is a combination of frustration with Quoyle - and anxiety that he get on with redeeming himself - and fascination with the colorful characters that soon surround him. A close-knit, interdependent community quickly draws him in, his new job - to write the shipping news for the local paper, the Gammy Bird - expediting the process. Quoyle is a natural newspaperman, who tends to see the world around him as a series of (often self-deprecating) headlines. And there's a local romance for him too - one that moves forward at a leisurely pace - with the wounded Wavey Prowse, who has much more in common with him than either initially realizes.

I highly recommend The Shipping News to you - in any media, but especially in this audiobook version, whose lilting accents draw the listener right in to the stark, salt-aired island setting and the natural warmth of the Newfoundland people.

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