The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
Author: Annie Proulx
Reader: Paul Hecht
Short Review: Proulx’s amazing, National Book Award- and Pulitzer-winning novel about loss, reclamation, love, and Newfoundland read well but slightly too stiffly by Paul Hecht.
Long Review: I love this novel, well and truly. It’s one of the finest books I’ve read on paper in years, and I know I will read it on paper again and again. Proulx wove so many beautiful and poignant things into its cloth: knitting, Newfoundland, fishing, storms, love, loss, community, abuse, work, family, writing, learning, risk, friendship, knots, failure, superstition . . . It is many things, but at its heart it is the story of a broken man who fails again and again, yet finally manages to redeem his own life and his children’s lives by going to his ancestral home and starting over. Proulx’s language is precise, and simple, and right over and over again. I think she has proven to be one of the best writers in the English language of our age, and I feel very lucky to have access to her work.
This is when I should probably admit that I have a serious crush on Newfoundland, and Proulx’s combination of the setting and repeated references to hand-knits would have kept me engaged in this book even if it had been pap. Thankfully, it’s brilliant, and it has enough in it other than knitting and Newfoundland that I can talk to normal, healthy people about it without making them twitch and attempt to force-feed me sedatives so I’ll stop talking about moving to Newfoundland and how vital knitting is in the novel.
Hecht is a good reader, but not an ideal one. I liked the audiobook, but I didn’t love it as much as I loved the paper book. His speech is a bit too formal, and a bit too stiff. It isn’t bad–it just doesn’t match what my mind needed. That said, I still loved listening to the audiobook because I love the characters and the story so dearly. I think my reaction to the audiobook is similar to the way I react to just about any movie based on a book I love. I may just love this book too much to be entirely happy with anyone who reads it aloud.
I’ve read some amateur reviews that complained about the spareness of Proulx’s language, the length of the book, and the supposed lack of action in it. All three complaints baffle me. I know there is an abridged version of the audiobook available, and that too makes scratch my head. I can’t puzzle out why anyone would want this story to be any shorter, whether on paper or on CD. With both the paper and audiobook versions, I was sad to finish the story, and I’ll miss Quoyle and Agnes and Wavey.