Annie Proulx is the author of eight books, including the novel The Shipping News and the story collection
. Her many honors include a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Award, the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, and a PEN/Faulkner award. Her story “Brokeback Mountain,” which originally appeared in The New Yorker, was made into an Academy Award-winning film. from publisher's web page Close Range
Prior to reading Barkskins I have read and posted on five short stories by Anne Proulx, including her most famous story "Brokeback Mountain".
Barkskins is a grand master work of large scale historical fiction, worthy to stand with the greatest in the genre. I was actually amazed by the power, scope, depth and wisdom of this book.
Beginning in the late 17th century, two Frenchmen, Sel and Duquet, arrive in Canada, then known as New Framce. They are bound servants for three years to a wealthy aristocrat who paid for their passage from France. They become woodcutters, the demand for timber for ships and buildings in the developing cities is huge. The book follows the lives of the two men and their families for three centuries.
Sel suffers greatly in the forest he is clearing. He is forced to marry a Mi'kmaw woman and we see how thier descendants straddle Indian and European culture.
Sel suffers extraordinary hardship, oppressed by the forest he is charged with clearing. . Duquet runs away from the man he is bound to serve, becomes a fur trader, then sets up a timber business. This timber business grows into a global enterprise dedicated to harvesting the virgins forests first of Canada, then of American and later Europe and New Zealand. It generates great wealth. Everywhere the company goes irreparable harm is done to enviorment. Logging is a very dangerous business and one must be ruthless and driven to prosper. Many terrible things happen. With the cutting of forests the habitats of animals are destroyed and aboriginal cultures are thrown into decay. We see this in Canada and New Zealand.
Proulx creates lots of interesting characters as the story develops. The book is extremally well researched and gives us a great sense of the loss of the forest of the world. There are some very humorous incidents I greatly relished.
Normally I read several books at once, but I was so fascinated by the plot, the characters, the history of the cutting of the trees of the world that I read Barkskins straight through.
I predict this book will receive great aclaim upon publication. I give it a very high recommendation to all lovers of historical fiction and works in the grand tradition of large scale novels. This is a great book.
I was given a review copy of Barkskins.