This month’s Book Group choice is The Shipping News, by E Annie Proulx. Following bereavement, Quoyle, with his daughters and his Aunt Agnis, heads to Newfoundland to start over. He gets a job reporting the shipping news for the local newspaper, The Gammy Bird, which seems to specialise in stories of sexual abuse and car wrecks.
I was gripped by the book from the start. Proulx’s writing style seemed strange at first. Lots of very short sentences. But, I soon got into the rhythm of it and the way in which even dramatic events seem to be reported in a matter of fact way. I also quickly became immersed in the cast of supporting characters with almost Dickensian names such as Mavis Bangs, Alvin Yark, Billy Pretty and, of course, Wavey.
Life is played out against a backdrop of a harsh, unforgiving environment – in fact, the weather takes such a central role that it almost becomes another character. Fog, storms, rain, wind and snow are all vividly described and help to shape the events that unfurl in the book. As might be expected from the title, fishing and the sea also feature heavily and I love the fact that many of the chapters start with a description of a knot.
I’m always delighted to find references to knitting in fiction and wasn’t disappointed here. Aunt Agnis is described as ‘knitting a cloud of angora as fast as a machine’ with ‘her sentences speeding up, tripping out as if to catch time with the clicking needles’. More unusually, however, two of the male characters also knit. Benny Fudge (another great name) wolfs down his lunchtime sandwich then ‘plys his needles as rapidly as the aunt’.
To me, a sign of a good book is when I still care about the lives of the characters once I’ve finished and that is certainly the case with Quoyle – you can’t help but wish him well. Or maybe that’s just me – the reading Group meeting is tomorrow night so I’ll find out then what the others think.
Weather and knitting also feature in the current book I’m reading. Blue Lightning by Anne Cleeves, is set on Fair Isle and is her fourth book to feature detective Jimmy Perez. Perez, has taken his fiancée to visit his parents on Fair Isle and just gets there as the weather closes in, making getting on or off the island impossible. And then a murder occurs and it is up to Perez to find out who is responsible.
I’d love to visit Fair Isle and can think of few things better than being forced by bad weather to stay indoors and knit all day but this is not a view shared by everyone. Fran, Perez’s fiancée “imagined knitting all day in poor light in a room filled with stir-crazy children and thought that at the end of it she’d feel like committing murder”. I accept that she has a point with the light and the children – in my ideal world there would at least be a good daylight bulb – but it would be far worse to be cooped up all day with no knitting!
I doubt that the killer’s motive is knitting-related but I’m only part way through so don’t yet know who is responsible, let alone why. So now to get back to reading – and knitting. One of the major unexpected benefits of a Kindle is that I’ve discovered I can read and knit at the same time. In the past, I’ve always had to choose between these activities as I could never find a satisfactory way to prop the book open but the flat screen of the Kindle solves that problem. I’m surprised they don’t mention it as one of the key selling features – if I’d known I’d have succumbed long ago…..