As a child, Quoyle is abused physically and emotionally by his father and brother. He lives a life that is buried in shame and self-hatred, and his marriage to Petal only reinforces his self-doubt and lack of confidence as a man. He never defends himself when he's attacked or criticized by others. After he and his daughters move to Newfoundland, he slowly begins to gain confidence in himself, his life opens up, and he starts to shed his shame. His work as a writer for the newspaper helps him become more confident of his worth and his abilities.
Aunt Agnis is a strong and independent woman who has much deeper connections to Newfoundland than her nephew. She was raised in Newfoundland and is wise in its ways and traditions. However, she is also a canny businesswoman who runs her own upholstery business in Newfoundland and who grows in compassion for Quoyle.
Bunny is an outspoken but rather strange six-year-old girl. She often says things that startle others but reveal her quick mind and imagination. Bunny has been traumatized by the death of her mother and her sudden relocation to Newfoundland from her previous and more familiar home in upstate New York. Her strong-willed nature prevents her from coming to grips with death, and Bunny's dreams haunt her. At times she experiences frightful, mysterious visions.
Sunshine is a seemingly happy and well-adjusted girl, attached to both her sister and her father. She and her sister fight occasionally, but they generally get along well. She is only four and a half years old when her mother dies and is likely too young to be traumatized by this or her sudden relocation. Her young age makes her resilient.
Wavey has lived her entire life on Newfoundland. Her husband was killed in an oil rig accident. Although she is quite reserved and a bit shy, she's an activist for social change. Wavey has a son, Herry, about the same age as Bunny. Herry has Down syndrome, and Wavey is active in getting special education classes for him. She and Quoyle become friends, and then more than friends. By the end of the book, they marry.
Jack Buggit, another native Newfoundlander, owns the newspaper where Quoyle works. He's also a fisherman and lobsterman who pursues traditional Newfoundland means of making a living as best he can. He seems to have a gift of second sight, or intuition, which helps him 'know' when people at sea are in trouble. He is angry at his son Dennis for choosing to work on a fishing boat, because fishing claimed the life of his other son. He saves Quoyle when Quoyle's small boat capsizes.
Billy Pretty is a friendly, warm, and very talkative employee at the newspaper. He functions as a repository of a wealth of Newfoundland tales and stories. He's deeply connected to his family and ancestors, and he helps Quoyle understand and accept his own Newfoundland ancestry.