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Summary

From Annie Proulx, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Shipping News and Brokeback Mountain, comes her masterpiece, 10 years in the writing - an epic, dazzling, violent, magnificently dramatic novel about taming the wilderness and destroying the forest, set over three centuries.

In the late 17th century, two illiterate woodsmen, Rene Sel and Charles Duquet, make their way from Northern France to New France to seek a living. Bound to a feudal lord, a seigneur, for three years in exchange for land, they suffer extraordinary hardship, always in awe of the forest they are charged with clearing, sometimes brimming with dreams of its commercial potential.

Rene marries an Indian healer, and they have children, mixing the blood of two cultures. Duquet travels the globe and back, starting a logging company that will prosper for generations.

Proulx tells the stories of the children, grandchildren, and descendants of these two lineages, the Sels and the Duquets, as well as the descendants of their allies and foes, as they travel back to Europe, to China, to New England, always in quest of a livelihood or a fortune or fleeing stunningly brutal conditions - accidents, pestilence, Indian attacks, the revenge of rivals.

In this feat of astonishing imagination, Proulx's inimitable genius is her creation of characters who are so vivid - in their greed, lust, vengefulness, sorrow, compassion, and hope - that we follow them with fierce attention. Annie Proulx is one of the most formidable writers of our time, and Barkskins is the story she has been writing all her life: a magnificent American novel.

©2016 Annie Proulx (P)2016 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Critic reviews

Praise for Annie Proulx: "One of the greatest American writers." ( Independent)
"A sublimely good writer." ( Daily Telegraph)
"It is hard to think of any living writer who deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Dickens, with the exception of Proulx." ( New Statesman)
"Proulx's prose is monumental." ( Observer)
"Like a mystic seeing the transfigured universe, she recreates the beauty of ordinary things." ( Independent on Sunday)
"Ms. Proulx writes with all the brutal beauty of one of her Wyoming snowstorms." ( Wall Street Journal)
"Annie Proulx is a true original. She has a shrewd understanding of people, a strong feeling for landscape and a wry sense of humour rather like Mark Twain's." ( Los Angeles Times)
"Artful, eloquent, wondrous." ( Boston Globe)

What members say

Average customer ratings

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

INTERMINABLE!

I have loved other writings by Annie Proulx but after listening to this one for about 8 hours and then realising that there were still 14 hours still to come, made me lose the will to live, let alone the will to carry on reading.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Ambitious story, but not for one book.

What did you like best about Barkskins? What did you like least?

This story covers a period of about four hundred years, starting in the 16th century and finishing pretty much in the present day. It starts with two men arriving in North America as indentured workers for the same man. It follows both these men and their many descendents during the following centuries. In a way it is a story of slow and inevitable decline on the one hand and the naked exploitation of what is considered to be the infinite resources of the environment to build a business empire on the other.

In essence one set of descendents become rich and the other essentially become increasingly impoverished and excluded. There is a strong and compelling ecological narrative throughout the story which rings through to this very day.

The problem for me is that there are so many characters and so many relations that keeping track of, and staying interested in, two family dynasties is difficult. When introduced to a new member of one of the family dynasties you may be seeing them as young initially and then you may not see them again until there are in their final years. Their lives described in between of apparently little significance or interest. That makes it difficult for a reader to engage with the characters.

This is a story that could easily have been expanded out to two or three books. The jumping around from character to character and in time make for difficult reading and it also makes it difficult to really care about and be absorbed by the characters. I also felt a little that by the end of the book it was getting more difficult to create distinct characters and their part of the overall story became increasingly like not much more than vignettes of peoples lives.

There is no doubt about it, this a book with enormous ambition, but unfortunately it's not for me.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Very detailed story, but couldn't finish

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

Maybe. You can tell Annie Proulx researched this novel thoroughly and you do get a strong feel for the settling of North America, from both the colonizers and the colonized. Often very gritty and thorougly detailed, but after awhile the characters become character studies--summations. A character will be there for several chapters and then die out, so I never got fully invested with any of them. I have read other epic novels and loved them, but with so much years passing, it just became a thing of 'OK, what decades are we onto next? Which generation is this now?' Most of the point of views were from the male characters and rarely from the female. I was also quite annoyed by the dialogue of the Native Americans, which seemed to fall on the stereotypical speech of no reflective verbs 'am', 'is', or 'are'. I was expecting 'Me Tonto' at any moment.

What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)

Didn't finish the book.

Would you listen to another book narrated by Robert Petkoff?

Not really. While his accent range was quite amazing and his pronunciation of French and Danish words and names equally so, his narrative voice wasn't particularly exciting or enganging.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A wonderful book

Loved this book and will feel bereft now I've finished it. So many important issues covered with an excellent portrayal of the origins of modern days ecological disasters. Captivating story line, fascinating insight into the history of the timber trade. Cannot praise it enough!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A real tour de force

The summary of this book did not appeal but, having just listened to 'The Shipping News' and loved it, I thought I would try my second Annie Proulx. Very glad I did. A fascinating book, beautifully written and well read. I felt it tailed off slightly at the end and became a little preachy, but that is a minor criticism of a long and enthralling novel. I think listening to the audiobook was a good move for me as I tend to struggle with difficult/unfamiliar names. I suspect the written version would be more of a challenge.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Epic & intriguing

Great book, flawless performance. Combines family history with ecology & the changes over centuries. Recommended.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Epic. A masterpiece.

An amazing novel. Annie Proulx is a master of the craft and never on better form. Long but engaging from start to finish and I didnt want it to end. Cannot recommend highly enough.

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  • Inge
  • London
  • 09-01-18

Not a clue what this book is about

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

A narrative that is going somewhere.

Would you ever listen to anything by Annie Proulx again?

No.

Would you be willing to try another one of Robert Petkoff’s performances?

Yes.

You didn’t love this book--but did it have any redeeming qualities?

Descriptions of the landscape(s) were wonderful.

Any additional comments?

This could have been such a great book. If only it was about something, rather than a rambling collection of centuries of family history, national history, tree preservation ideology, going in no direction whatsoever.

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  • Renata
  • EDINBURGH, United Kingdom
  • 24-10-17

amazing

vast story and history based around two French immigrants to New France/Canada and their descendants - the destruction of the boreal forests of North America and man's insatiable greed for wood

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Great American novel status?

Annie Proulx manages to combine a history of North American colonialism, environmental destruction and great storytelling. It's not easy to maintain interest in characters over a period of 500 years or whatever, but I think she does it pretty well and makes you care about most of the central characters even if they only appear for a short while. It would have been nice to have a printed family tree available for reference, but mostly I managed to follow who was who. I thought the narrator was fantastic, keeping everyone clearly distinct. There were a few parts where it dragged a bit (unless you are really into trees) but I'm very glad I stuck with it. Wish Trump would read it and learn.

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  • Malcolm Hart
  • 16-10-16

Proulx is brilliant as always.

An absolutely stunning novel. Proulx could not do more to show us how white colonialism has stolen and then destroyed everything it touched in the name of progress.