GALORE by Michael Crummey

Book Quote:

“Irish nor English, Jerseyman nor bushborn nor savage, not Roman or Episcopalian or apostate, Judah was the wilderness on two legs, mute and unknowable, a blankness that could drown a man.”

Book Review:

Review by Friederike Knabe  (APR 8, 2011)

Michael Crummey opens his new novel with Judah, sitting in a “makeshift asylum cell, shut away with the profligate stink of fish that clung to him all his days.” Only Mary Tryphena Devine comes near him these days, urging him to take a little food – or, if he doesn’t want to eat – to just die. Judah’s story is the primary, yet not the only otherworldly theme that glides through this multigenerational family saga, touching everybody in its wake. The novel is set in one of Newfoundland’s wild and rough eastern coastal regions, and, more specifically, in two remote fishing villages, Paradise Deep and The Gut.

Crummey, himself a Newfoundlander, has written this highly imaginative, superbly crafted folkloric tale that blends with great ease strands of supernatural magic of old fairy tales and beliefs into a chronicle of the early colonists’ precarious existence. Spanning over one hundred years, starting with the early eighteen hundreds, the author spins a tall tale of life in the early settler communities, that delves deep into personal relationships, social strife between the Irish and West-country English, the political and the religious powers, competing for influence and control.

In the first few pages, Crummey hints at important future developments, but then he quickly moves back in time to events when Mary Tryphena was a child and a whale had beached itself on the shore of Paradise Deep. The villagers, starving and desperate for food after another meager fishing season and an icy-cold winter of scarcity, cannot believe their luck. However, when they carefully cut through the animal’s flesh, a human-like body emerges from its belly. Devine’s Widow (Mary Tryphena’s grandmother and one of the most powerful personalities in The Gut) while preparing the body for burial, turns him over, and the strange, completely white figure starts coughing up water, blood and small fishes…! He cuts an unusual figure among the locals and he stinks of sea and rotten fish, a smell that is so overpowering that nobody wants to be near him…

The locals, God-fearing yet illiterate, and with the priest not due for a visit for some time, cannot agree which of the biblical names belongs to the “story with the whale” and as a compromise decide on “Judah.” While suspicious of him from the outset – not just physically is he an oddity, being completely white from head to toe, he also appears unable (unwilling?) to speak – the villagers, who have a tendency towards superstition, start blaming the intruder for all the mishaps that are befalling them. Until, that is, when Judah joins one of the fishing boats and leading them to the most amazing catch. Is this a one-off occurrence or will the fate of the poor fishermen from The Gut finally change for the better?

Judah’s survival is intricately linked to the Devine family, the most important clan in The Gut. Paradise Deep is controlled by the Seller clan, wealthy merchants who own more than their share and exert their power over the communities by any means, legal or not. The clans’ disputes and quarrels go back to a personal fight between Devine’s Widow and King-me Sellers, the matriarch and patriarch of the respective clan, but over the generations it expands into a constant rivalry between the Irish and West-Country English, between poor illiterate fisher folks living in The Gut and the merchants/land owners from Paradise Deep. Crummey weaves such an intricate six generation portrait of the two clans and the people around them that it is difficult to go into details without revealing too much of the events or the many individuals that stand out as full-fleshed characters. For his realistic and factual backdrop, the author touches the political developments on Newfoundland, such as rise of the first fishermen’s union at the turn of the nineteenth century, and far away places where some of the younger generation escape to or fight in the first World War. Nonetheless, he never loses his focus on the local people of the two villages and, especially the women who carry a tremendous burden to ensure the survival of the next generation.

To help the reader through the myriad of names and characters that come to life in the story, a genealogical chart is displayed upfront with the names of the numerous offspring through the six generations. I can only recommend, however, not to look at this chart, if at all possible, prior to at least reaching part 2 of the novel. While such a chart is useful to remind us who is related to whom, and in what generation we find ourselves, it does hint at some surprising cross connections that are better discovered in due course as it will take away some of the pleasure in discovering and reading this rich tale.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 78 readers
PUBLISHER: Other Press; Reprint edition (March 29, 2011)
REVIEWER: Friederike Knabe
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Michael Crummey
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Another “whale” of a tale:

  • Fluke by Christopher Moore

Another “folklore” novel:



April 8, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Allegory/Fable, Canada, Commonwealth Prize, Facing History, Speculative (Beyond Reality), World Lit, y Award Winning Author

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