- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Doubleday Canada; 1st Edition edition (Aug. 11 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385663145
- ISBN-13: 978-0385663144
- Product Dimensions: 16.6 x 2.9 x 24.2 cm
- Shipping Weight: 703 g
- Average Customer Review: 26 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #227,671 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Galore Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Aug 11 2009
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Quill & Quire
For its sheer extremes, both real and conjured, Newfoundland occupies a singular place in Canada’s history and literary imagination. While the typical Newfoundland narrative emphasizes the rugged terrain and pragmatic lifestyle of the land’s inhabitants – usually in a mode of straightforward naturalism – Michael Crummey’s third novel injects an element of magic realism to convey an otherworldly quality. The result is a work that surprises and reveals. With this new novel, the very title of which suggests Newfoundland’s wealth of stories, Crummey, a Newfoundland native now living in St. John’s, reaffirms his position as a leading voice in the literature of the Rock. Galore vividly imagines Newfoundland’s early permanent settlements, established around the beginning of the 19th century when English and Irish immigrants, among others, set up cod fisheries. Scattered along the coastline, these tiny settlements endured in an unimaginably hostile environment and with scarce resources. Focusing on two stark coastal communities – Paradise Deep and the Gut – Galore depicts multiple generations of two families divided by wealth, status, politics, and religion, yet inextricably bound by duty, shame, clandestine love, revenge, and the challenge of survival in the New World. The English Protestant Sellers, headed by patriarch, magistrate, and tyrant King-me Sellers, reside in Paradise Deep, where they run a merchant operation and exercise significant economic and political power over the two communities. The Sellers’ connection to the Devines, a family of Irish Catholic fishermen living in the Gut, is a matter of great irritation for King-me, whose pride was long ago wounded by the Devines’ matriarch – known to all as Devine’s Widow – when she refused his proposal of marriage. An embittered King-me accuses Devine’s Widow of cursing the Sellers family and initiating a chain of inauspicious events that will forever bind the two families. Devine’s Widow’s reputation for being a witch with supernatural powers remains with her throughout her life, and she is both feared and revered for it. However, the supernatural elements in Galore are not confined to one character. Folk remedies for strange afflictions, ancient pagan rituals, merwomen, a murderer’s ghost that haunts his wife, and mummers with uncanny insight all contribute to a portrait of a people caught between the living and the dead, the real and the phantasmagoric. The most dramatic example of the novel’s otherworldly aspect is the presence of the mysterious, mute Judah, a seemingly ageless man (he appears unchanged throughout the two-hundred-year span of the novel) delivered to the settlements in the belly of a whale. Judah miraculously emerges alive, and exhibits remarkable abilities to promote healing and abundance for the people of the Gut. Despite his strangeness, which isolates him from the community, this mystical, self-sacrificing, Christ-like figure – who refers to himself as “God’s Nephew” – is one of the only truly sympathetic characters in the novel, unaffected by the bleakness of Newfoundland life. Perhaps in an effort to provide a fanciful tale of early Newfoundland with a more substantial historical framework, Crummey introduces the well-known politician and union organizer William Coaker in the second part of the novel. Coaker, who founded the Fisherman’s Protective Union in 1908 and was heavily involved in Newfoundland politics around the time of the First World War, attempts to recruit union members from among the fishermen in the community, men who are suffering from the merchants’ stranglehold on fish prices and trade. Coaker’s unsettling presence in the community, his dubious role in the passing of the Military Service Act of 1918 that brings conscription to the Newfoundland shore, and the union’s resulting loss of power and respect, usher in the anticlimactic close of the novel. With the youngest member of the Devine family gone to war, his fate undetermined, and other inhabitants of Paradise Deep and the Gut having fled elsewhere, the reader is left to wonder what will become of those who are left behind as the events of the 20th century continue to unfold. Despite this, Galore remains a dense, intricate, and absorbing tale, rich in the nuances of human relationships. Those hoping for a plot-driven read will, however, be disappointed in what is primarily, and successfully, a character study that, while not exactly cheery, has charm galore.
Praise for The Wreckage:
“Crummey offers a journey of stimulating moral inquiry…. Heroically human.”
— The Globe and Mail
“Crummey’s gift is to write with compassion, complexity and depth.”
— National Post
“The writing moves with the confidence of someone at home with his material and setting, well-versed in its details both beautiful and awful.”
— Atlantic Books Today
Top customer reviews
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After a brief glimpse into a later period, Crummey moves quickly back in time to Mary Tryphena's childhood when a whale beached itself on the shore of Paradise Deep. The villagers, desperate for food after another meager fishing season and an icy-cold winter of scarcity, can hardly wait to cut up the animal's flesh. Just then, as Mary Tryphena's grandmother, Devine's Widow, pulls the body from the whale's belly, the figure starts coughing up water, blood and small fishes...! He is fully grown and cuts an unusual figure among the locals: he is completely white from head to toe, and his smell of rotten fish is so overpowering that nobody wants to be near him...
The locals, God-fearing yet illiterate, and with the itinerant priest not due for a visit for some time, cannot agree which biblical name belongs to the "story with the whale" and, as a compromise, decide on "Judah". Suspicion follows the strange figure from the outset - not just physically is he an oddity, he also appears to be mute. The villagers easily blame him for all the mishaps that are befalling them. Until, one day, Judah one leads them to the most amazing catch...
Much of Crumney's narrative is focused on the ongoing strife between the Devine family, the most important clan in The Gut, who have "adopted" Judah, and the Seller clan who control Paradise Deep, wealthy merchants who exert their power over the communities by any means,legal or not. The clans' dispute has a long history, going back to Devine's Widow and King-me Seller, yet, over the generations it has turned into a constant, often violent, rivalry between the Irish and West-Country English, between the poor fisher folks and the merchants/land owners. The different church representatives also compete for the souls of the villagers. Much influence rests with some of the local women; they play an important role in both contributing to and smoothing the generational conflicts. Not only do they have a central role here, they are, very convincingly, depicted as the carriers of tradition and, sometimes, magical powers... The local dialect of the time is prominent throughout the frequent dialogs and takes some getting used to. It adds, however, a special flair to the narrative.
Crummey weaves an intricate six-generation tapestry of the two clans and the people around them that it is sometimes difficult not to get lost in the interrelationships between characters, despite thme being fully developed. For his factual backdrop, the author touches on various political developments in Newfoundland and introduces historical figures into the fictional world he has created. While the author never loses his interest in the local communities, some of the (historical and other) side developments take away some of the magic of the narrative's central drive and focus. To help the reader through the myriad of names that come to life in the story, a genealogical chart is displayed upfront. While such a chart is useful, given the wealth of characters, it does reveal some linkages that are better discovered only in due course. All in all this is a rich tale that will attract those readers in particular who have an interest in the history of the island of Newfoundland. [Friederike Knabe]
A multi-generational tale of community, Galore is set in a small fishing village in Newfoundland - exactly when and exactly where are not revealed. The story begins with the death of a whale, and a shocking discovery inside its belly.
It tracks generations of two families, the Sellers and the Devines, and their rivalries, grudging inter-dependence, secret romances and superstitions.
The village is entirely dependent on the mercy of the ocean - to provide their food, to return their sailors home safe, to not wash away their homes. Year after year, babies are born, people die, people marry, hopes are raised and dashed, and the ocean is there for it all, along with the mystery the dead whale brought.
I enjoyed this book tremendously. Galore is a treat to read, by turns dark and slippery, funny and quirky, heartbreaking and tragic, and the people feel real enough to touch. Their stories can't be put down. I recommend it highly.
Michael Crummey who is a friend and a writer I admire, I'll admit that off the bat, has done a remarkable job with this book.
Galore is a book inspired by the mythology of Newfoundland. I'm going to quote from the Globe and Mail review here because I simply can't say it any better:
"The novel opens with a group of people in the fictional Newfoundland outport of Paradise Deep, slaughtering a whale that has inexplicably beached itself. Young Mary Tryphena watches as the body of a man, pale and stinking, is cut from the whale's belly. Her grandmother, an old crone named Devine's Widow, defies the town oligarch, King-me Sellers, and has the man carried up the hill to prepare him for a proper burial.
"The man, it turns out, is in fact alive, though he cannot speak a word. In the spirit of compromise and illiteracy, he is given the name of Judah. He never does utter a word, and he never loses his stench, but his presence ignites a spark in Paradise Deep that sustains the story for multiple generations.
"Crummey's prose is flawless. He has a way with the colloquial that escapes many writers, an ability to make the idiosyncrasies of local speech an asset in creating an image in the reader's mind.
''They'd scaled the whale's back to drive a stake with a maul, hoping to strike some vital organ, and managed to set it bleeding steadily. They saw nothing for it then but to wait for God to do His work and they sat with their splitting knives and fish prongs, with their dip nets and axes and saws and barrels. The wind was razor sharp and Mary Tryphena lost all feeling in her hands and feet and her little arse went dunch on the sand while the whale expired in imperceptible increments. Jabez Trim waded out at intervals to prod at the fat saucer of an eye and report back on God's progress.''
The book, while being about the stories Newfoundlanders have told for generations, is also about those very generations of Newfoundlanders, the story-tellers, the priests, the mummers, the fishermen and sealers, the women who healed with herbs and midwifed, the merchants, the labor organizers, the fools and the visionaries.
The epigrams are from Gabriel Garcia Marquez - The invincible power that has moved the world is unrequited, not happy, love -- and the Psalms -- I will bring my people again from the depths of the sea. And certainly both influences are present in this book. Unrequited love does circle the waters here, with all the power and depth of the sea. For me, it worked, as did the moments of magical realism. For example, I had no trouble suspending disbelief when a dead man simply would not stop living with his wife.
But most of all, I was impressed with the way Crummey handles mystery and time. There are mysterious appearances, such as Judah's, and mysterious disappearances -- or in some cases, non-disappearances. The narrative ebbs and flows, but in circles, each tale overlapping like the generations of Devines (and the name is chosen deliberately, of course) and Sellers (again, deliberate name choice). There is a timeless, non-linear quality to the tale which I think is best exemplified in this lovely bit of prose:
"--Now the once, she said.
It was the oddest expression he'd learned on the shore. Now the once. The present twined with the past to mean soon, a bit later, some unspecified point in the future. As if it was all the same finally, as if time was a single moment endlessly circling on itself."
Therein lies the secret to this wonderful book, I think, and the clue as to the brilliant ending, which of course I won't give away. And don't let's forget the humor, please. Newfoundlanders make me laugh as no one else, expect perhaps the Irish. I'll let you discover those chuckles for yourself, and I hope you will... soon.
Well done, Michael, well done.
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