This weekend has been totally hectic and I got virtually no reading done, so instead I’ll tell you about one of my desert island books – a book that’s made a big impression on me, and shaped my reading habits thereafter …
The first on my list is The Shipping News
by Annie Proulx
who in those days was billed as E. Annie Proulx – it seems she’s dropped the ‘E’ lately.
Whereas the English equivalents of novels based in small-town America often seem so claustrophobic they have an unreal quality about them, this is not true of their US counterparts for me. North America is so vast, the novels also have a quality of space about them. Sure, everyone still knows everyone else, but they’re not squashed together like sardines, they have to make an effort to interact.
This is so in The Shipping News
, where one of life’s failures, Quoyle, betrayed by his wife, opts to start all over again in faraway windswept Newfoundland. The novel is all about how he starts to fit in with the local community which takes time, as they’re mostly failures of a kind too. The quirky characters are superb, both comic and sympathetic. If you liked the TV series Northern Exposure
, you’ll find similarities here, but that’s where it ends, as Annie Proulx’s writing leaps off the page and makes everything seem totally real. The chapters are headed with figures from a 1944 book of knots and quotations from the Mariner’s Dictionary which add to the considerable charm of this book.
I’d not read many contemporary American novels set outside the great metropolises before, and this one fired my interests. I’ve since discovered powerful novels by Daniel Woodrell
and in Winter’s Bone
set in the Ozark mountains, and The Resurrectionists
sent in Michigan by Michael Collins
together with the rest of Annie’s of course.