LONGLISTED FOR THE BAILEYS WOMEN’S PRIZE FOR FICTION 2017
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From Annie Proulx, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Shipping Newsand Brokeback Mountain, comes her masterwork: an epic, dazzling, violent, magnificently dramatic novel about the taking down of the world’s forests.
In the late seventeenth century two penniless young Frenchmen, RenÃ© Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in New France. Bound to a feudal lord, a “seigneur,” for three years in exchange for land, they become wood-cutters – barkskins. RenÃ© suffers extraordinary hardship, oppressed by the forest he is charged with clearing. He is forced to marry a Mi’kmaw woman and their descendants live trapped between two inimical cultures. But Duquet, crafty and ruthless, runs away from the seigneur, becomes a fur trader, then sets up a timber business. Proulx tells the stories of the descendants of Sel and Duquet over three hundred years – their travels across North America, to Europe, China, and New Zealand, under stunningly brutal conditions; the revenge of rivals; accidents; pestilence; Indian attacks; and cultural annihilation. Over and over again, they seize what they can of a presumed infinite resource, leaving the modern-day characters face to face with possible ecological collapse.
Proulx’s inimitable genius is her creation of characters who are so vivid – in their greed, lust, vengefulness, or their simple compassion and hope – that we follow them with fierce attention. Annie Proulx is one of the most formidable and compelling American writers, and Barkskinsis her greatest novel, a magnificent marriage of history and imagination.