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Literature / The Shipping News

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The Shipping News is a Pulitzer Prize-winning 1993 novel by Annie Proulx.

It centers around Quoyle, a newspaper reporter whose life is unraveling. His parents kill themselves after they are both diagnosed with cancer. His monstrous sociopath of a wife, Petal, attempts to sell their two daughters to sex traffickers. Petal leaves Quoyle, only to be killed in a car wreck. All these shocks lead Quoyle to take his daughters to his father's home town, the village of Killick-Claw in Newfoundland. There he attempts to start a new life. He gets a job at the local newspaper and finds love with Wavey, a woman in the town.

In 2001 it was made into a feature film directed by Lasse Hallström, starring Kevin Spacey as Quoyle, Judi Dench as Agnis, Cate Blanchett as Petal, and Julianne Moore as Wavey.


  • Adapted Out:
    • In the book Quoyle and Petal's daughter Sunshine is excluded from the film adaptation.
    • Same with most of the Buggit family from the book were composited or left out.
  • Bandit Clan: Quoyle, a mild-mannered Extreme Doormat, is surprised to find out that his Newfoundland ancestors were pirates that used lights to lure ships onto rocks, where they would crash, allowing the Quoyles to harvest the wrecks for goods.
  • Blowing Smoke Rings: Partridge, Quoyle's mentor in the newspaper business, does this as a demonstration of his coolness.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: It's revealed that Agnis was raped by Quoyle's father as a preteen.
  • Driven to Suicide: When Quoyle's parents are both diagnosed with cancer at the same time, they kill themselves.
  • Exact Words: Agnis tells Quoyle that she had a lover, since deceased, named Warren, who inspired her to get into the upholstery business. Agnis is careful to only refer to her former significant other as "Warren" and never tells Quoyle that her lover's full name was Irene Warren.
  • Extreme Doormat: Quoyle's main character flaw, as, despite being a physically large man, he is extremely timid and lets people walk all over him. Petal thinks nothing of bringing other men to their home to have sex with. His brother calls him "lardass" and "barfbag".
  • Gentle Giant: Excessively gentle. Quoyle is a huge hulking man with massive ham-hands and an enormous jutting jaw. He is also mild and wimpy.
  • Hangover Sensitivity: Quoyle is hunched over a toilet vomiting the morning after Jack Buggit's going-away party.
  • I Love the Dead: Quoyle's distant relative Nolan—one of the only characters in the book who doesn't have a wacky name—is said to have had sex with his wife after she was dead. No woman on the island would get with him after that.
  • If It Bleeds, It Leads: "We run a front-page photo of a car wreck every week, whether we have a wreck or not." The Gammy Bird also runs a lot of stories about lurid local sexual abuse cases (of which there seems to be an infinite supply).
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Quoyle is unpleasantly surprised one night when he fishes a suitcase out of the ocean and discovers the severed head of Mr. Melville, the obnoxious yacht owner. Later in the novel we learn that his wife was arrested, in the company of the handsome yacht steward who is 30 years younger than her. She's quoted as saying "I did it for love."
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: Jack Buggit cheerfully relates how his great-great-great grandfather, one of the first settlers, had to eat people to survive.
  • Pronoun Trouble: Sort of. Aunt Agnis tells Quoyle about her deceased lover, Warren, who urged her to get into the upholstery business. She talks about their relationship and how Warren died of cancer. Agnis avoids using personal pronouns and does not tell Quoyle that her lover's full name was Irene Warren. Quoyle never does find out that his aunt is a lesbian.
  • Purple Prose: Here is the second paragraph of the novel, which tells the story of Quoyle's childhood and youth.
    "Hive-spangled, gut roaring with gas and cramp, he survived childhood; at the state university, hand clapped over his chin, he camouflaged torment with smiles and silence. Stumbled through his twenties and into his thirties learning to separate his feelings from his life, counting on nothing. He ate prodigiously, liked a ham knuckle, buttered spuds."
    • Then there's all Proulx's bizarre names. A hero named Quoyle, with friends named Ed Punch and Al Catalog, marries a woman named Petal Bear, has children named Bunny and Sunshine, falls in love with a woman named Wavey, has coworkers named Jack Buggit, Tert Card, Billy Pretty, and B. Beaufield Nutbeem.
  • Quirky Town: The little town in Newfoundland that Quoyle relocates to, where you can be a father at 11, where your ancestors might have eaten people, and where the residents have names like "Jack Buggit".
  • Really Gets Around: Petal is described as "a woman who could not be held back from strangers' rooms, who would have sexual conjugation whether in stinking rest rooms or mop cupboards."
  • Salvage Pirates: Quoyle, a mild-mannered Extreme Doormat, is surprised to find out that his Newfoundland ancestors were pirates that used lights to lure ships onto rocks, where they would crash, allowing the Quoyles to harvest the wrecks for goods.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Gender reversed. Quoyle calculates that his grandfather must have been about 11 when he fathered a child. His aunt's reply is simply: "You don't know Newfoundlanders."
  • Title Drop: Quoyle is invited to work for a rinky-dink Newfoundland paper that covers "the shipping news" regarding vessels entering and leaving the local port.
  • Waking Up at the Morgue: A man wakes up at his own funeral—or actually his wake. Quoyle has trouble explaining this to his young daughter, who doesn't quite understand the difference between death and sleep.