I read The Shipping News last year and found it a dense read that I could not predict translating to film. I was extremely impressed, when I finally got around to hiring it, at how well the story was told. In just under two hours, the film captures the essence of the book; all of the characters, including the character that is the house when Quoyle and his family find themselves living.
There was a couple of immediately noticeable changes that I worried initially could be a problem; in the film, Quoyle only has one daughter and the dog is missing altogether. However, whilst both of those characters serve important roles in the book, they are not missing in the film.
It is a long and slow film, and usually, that’s what I complain about. I still think that the plot of the majority of films can be told in an hour and a half, but it’s almost as if ‘film’ has heard my complaint and is sending me all of the good long films. This film couldn’t have been a moment shorter; if anything, it could have been longer. However, there were single shots in the film that covered many pages of the book and encapsulated everything about this.
Quoyle is an awkward man who finds social interactions more difficult that most. He stumbles into a career in newspapers, and through a series of desperately sad events, ends up living in Newfoundland with his aunt and his two daughters. And stuff happens. Not a lot of stuff, but stuff.
I found myself struggling through this book. It is beautiful, but extremely densely beautiful, and it was like wading through prose in the hope of reaching story. I think it is a certain type of writing. It reminds me of John Irving and even Jonathon Franzen. The writing is something that I feel glad I’ve read, but a little annoyed that it’s taken so much of my time.
Thinking back over the book, there is no doubt that a lot of stuff happens, but there seems to be very little emotional connection to it. Throughout Quoyle’s grieving, I felt nothing. Characters die or tell their terrible stories, and I felt nothing. I felt like I really wanted to connect, but just didn’t.
What I did love was the way E. Annie Proulx uses The Ashley Book of Knots throughout the book as inspiration. Often, when authors have a poem or some other quote at the start of each chapter, I ignore it, but found these bits fascinating. It was almost like a Where’s Wally moment, looking to find the connection between the quote and how it worked in the narrative.
The book was made into a film with an amazing cast including Kevin Spacey, Dame Judi Dench, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite and Cate Blanchett. I must watch this – I just can’t see how this could translate into film.