The Shipping News has a movie adaptation. When I first saw the movie poster in the early 2000’s, I wanted to watch it so badly. There’s Kevin Spacey and Julianne Moore! At that time, I didn’t know that it was based on a novel, and for some reason, I was not able to watch it, too.
Maybe because I was destined to read the novel first and download the movie later. Looking back, The Shipping News is probably the start of my addiction to books and my lifetime goal of collecting all the winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Quoyle is dumb. Quoyle is stupid. Quoyle was left by his wife. Quoyle does not have any real talent. There he is, the main character of the novel.
But you still root for him. He is like a cousin to you, the cousin who never played pranks on you and who only has good intentions for you.
But he really is stupid. Well, that’s what I remember mostly about him. But don’t get me wrong. He is not a mental retard; he’s just not someone you’d like to have an intellectual conversation with over coffee.
And boy, I am so annoyed with his daughter. He has two, and one of them is named Bunny. Now, who would name a daughter Bunny, except if you are intellectually challenged? Anyway, I am not sure if it is Bunny that exasperated me or the other daughter. That girl is a petulant one sent above from the deepest pits of hell. She is capable of evil, and it shows in her actions. I wouldn’t be surprised if she turns out to be a syndicate queen when she grows up.
But in the novel, there can only be a remote place for things like that. The novel is first set in the suburbs, until Quoyle’s wife left them. Then they move to Canada. Or not. I am not sure. I even think it’s somewhere near Nova Scotia. That’s still Canada, right?
So you get the picture. A rural town filled with winding roads, boats, frozen rivers, boats, icebergs, boats, glacial stuff, boats. And there’s a woman named Wavey, the next love interest of Quoyle. I no longer remember if they ended up together, but this is what I am sure of: Quoyle landed a job as a journalist in the local paper.
The little town didn’t have a lot to report except for a string of vehicular accidents. These accidents are like their politics. The people of the town read it with much interest, or so the local journalists thought. Come to think of it, journalism can shape the way you think, and if you see accident after accident on the papers, then what are the readers inclined to think about?
The novel goes on like that. Quoyle writing articles despite his inability to do so, Quoyle having his own column entitled “The Shipping News” that is about the arrival and departure times of ships in their coastal town, Quoyle sending his daughters to a daycare where Wavey works, and Quoyle trying to build a life in the decrepit, mysterious, and living ancestral house that his line left to him. How he had the idea of getting in there, I no longer recall. I do not even remember how he found out that this living house belongs to his ancestors.
I use the word living here because the house is really alive. Think of a haunted house. There should be ghosts in a haunted house, right? The ghosts can bring a sort of life in the house, but in this novel, the house itself is alive.
That’s not the end of the house affairs yet. The house was transferred by his ancestors from a different place to where it is now. No, it was not deconstructed and reconstructed. It was pulled with ropes and logs, and for what reason, I can barely recall. I think it has something to do with the family being a boon in the society and thrown off by the townspeople.
So in the end, the house self-destructs, someone dies and gets back to life, Quoyle becomes the editor-in-chief, and you close the book and say, “Good job, Quoyle!”
I am particularly fond of this novel because at the beginning of each chapter, there is a description of various types of knots that are integrated into the development of the plot. Slip knots, granny knots, whatnots. Also, when I think of Quoyle, I remember that time in my sophomore year when I was not accepted in the high school publication. I am not saying that I can write better than most people, but I was devastated by it.
Then I switched schools. I made it in my new high school’s publication, won some journalism contests, and became the editor-in-chief after a year.
So you might want to ask, what does this novel imply to me? I think it’s about coming to terms with your past. Quoyle was haunted by the sins of his ancestors, tormented by the pain that her ex-wife wrought on him, reminded of the squalor of his earlier life, and pulled back by his inability at a lot of things. He got over those by moving on, crossing over, and starting anew. The destruction of that ancestral house is the ultimate metaphor for that, and it is also one of my favorites.
Not only that, this novel proves that you don’t have to be a genius to be successful. Well, success is relative. Nevertheless, being happy still does not require a lot of intellectual capacity.