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.
"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)
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Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By ZedBooks on 30-12-17
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
By Detritus on 12-07-17
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
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Malcolm Hart on 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.