For a long time I’ve wanted to visited the Canadian East Coast. Pictures of lighthouses in Nova Scotia look beautiful. I’m a big fan of Lucy Maud Montgomery, who set the majority of her books on Prince Edward Island. But every book I’ve read about Newfoundland makes it sound like a cold, desolate place. (See: Annabel by Kathleen Winter).
Galore (Doubleday, 2009) is no exception. Michael Crummey, a lifelong Newfoundlander, doesn’t sugarcoat the Newfoundland experience. Especially in the late 19th century, which is when much of Galore takes place.
The novel opens with the strange scene of a whale beached and dying on the shores of a tiny community called Paradise Deep. Carving up the whale for parts, the people discover a man inside. A pale, mute, living man that they eventually name Judah.
We are steadily introduced to the people of Paradise Deep. The Irish Devines, headed by the Widow Devine, who reluctantly take Judah in. King-me Sellers, the richest man in an impoverished community, and his wife and grandson. These two families have both a history and a future that is deeply entwined. Unspoken, there is a theme laced through the novel of destiny, of things that have to be, and a story repeated until it turns out right.
This is the kind of book with a family tree at the beginning and you’ll be thankful for it.
The other characters of Paradise Deep are equally colourful. There’s Father Phelan, the wandering, drunken Catholic priest. Mrs. Gallery and her haunting vestige of a husband, Mr. Gallery. Obadiah and Azariah, brothers who aren’t related but are closely linked. And, of course, Judah, who seems to hold the luck and the tragedy of the entire community.
There are a few ups and a lot of downs in the life of Paradise Deep. Life is hard and often short. We witness deaths, births, marriages, and a strange, semi-pagan type of baptism.
I loved the trajectory of the novel, the way it continuously moved forward, both in time and plot. At the same time, this meant that you never seemed to have the time to delve deeply into any individual character. Much of their motivation and inner process remained hidden. Perhaps that was Crummey’s intention but it made the characters seem that much less realistic.
Crummey’s descriptions are excellent. With a few words here and there he paints a vivid picture of this cold, hard place on the edge of the world. Characters are easy to visualize, sometimes sympathetic, sometimes frightening. His writing may make me hesitate over visiting Newfoundland, but I’ll certainly be happy to read more of Crummey’s work.
My favourite description in Galore:
“His voice like the first taste of sugar after Lent, a sweetness that was almost hallucinatory.”