Here is an account of a few years in the life of Quoyle, born in Brooklyn and raised in a shuffle of dreary upstate towns, where the novel begins. In these few years Quoyle metamorphoses from the human equivalent of a Flemish flake--a one layer spiral coil of rope that may be walked on if necessary--to a multi-layered presence with the capacity for constantly renewed purpose and connection. Grief, love, work, friendship, family, necessity, and community effect this transformation, as does Quoyle’s ancestral home of Newfoundland, a place of beauty and hardship, of memory and reverie.


The contemporary variation on a conventional opening of the nineteenth-century realist novel is but one subtle witticism in a bounty of nuanced, innovative, wry and dryly humorous delights for the reader of The Shipping News. Indeed, the novel teaches the reader to be more attentive, to look for the ripple effect of the chapter headings, to follow the narrative twists of the metaphoric knots described, to hear the richness of an English dialect, to attend to the fine representational shadings of a character’s intrapsychic life and social interactions.

The protagonist evolves by doing in a world where action and story are intertwined and valued, where narrating is an action and actions are recounted, where one is identified by the stories recounted about one’s family, and known by the stories told of one’s actions. By the end of the novel the reader has not only observed Quoyle’s transformation but has developed an affection for a once unsympathetic character, and a greater appreciation for human potential. Moreover, he or she has learned to read and listen to narratives in a more refined way. These metamorphoses of the reader heighten the value of Proulx’s already exceptional treatment of a variety of themes.


This novel won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and Irish Times International Fiction Prize. First published: 1993 (Charles Scribner’s Sons).


Simon & Schuster: Touchstone

Place Published

New York


1994 (paperback)

Page Count