Saturday, July 24, 2010

Galore by Michael Crummey

It's sometime in the early 19th century, Newfoundland in a small fishing village called Paradise Deep. The village is anything but paradise and times are tough. The fish are no longer biting and a whale has beached on shore. There is no way to save the whale and the hungry villagers are waiting for it to die before they carve it up and portion it out. They will also harvest the oil for their lamps.

The whale finally dies and the villagers are carving away when all of a sudden a man pours out of its stomach. At first he appears to be dead but then it is discovered that he is alive. The Devine Widow is a healer and midwife and takes him home to nurse him. He is washed but no matter how many times he is washed he still stinks like dead fish. The other family members insist that he is kept in the shed.

He is mute but after a short time, healthy. They decide to call him Judah. many of the villagers decided that it is Judah brought them bad luck and that is why the fish left. They go after him but the widow has him hide.

The next day a bunch of the fisherman go out to try to catch some fish. They are desperate and feel it is they duty to try even though they now they will fail. They start rowing out but can't figure out where that nasty "dead fish" smell is coming from, when all of a sudden Judah comes out from under their gear. They decide it's too far to row back to shore and give Judah a turn at the oars. The men still call him "stranger".

Judah puts a line out and the fisherman think he's crazy they way he is doing it. However, "The stranger struck in then, hauling the line hand over hand, arms straining with the weight. The first pale glove of flesh let loose a pulse of oily ink as it broke the surface." Its squid, so many squid. The men fill up their boat and then hand of the line of squid to the next boat, and the next boat, until they couldn't carry any more. They discover that Judah is good luck, after all. After that they insist that he go with them every day they fish and then the cod start biting again.

This is a multi generational historical fiction saga. It chronicles two rival families, the rich Sellers family that pretty much owns the town and the Devine family, who try to scratch a living from fishing. When Judah is discovered from the whale, Mary Tryphena Devine is only nine years old. When she become of marriage age, she turns down every possible suitor, holding out hope that her secret love, Absalom Sellers will come back home and ask for her hand despite the rivalry between families. Mary Tryphena is finally talked into marrying Judah, to save him from King-Me Sellers.

Though Mary can't stand the smell of him, they consummate the marriage, in the shed and then Tryphena goes back to the house. Nine months later she has their son, Patrick. Later they have another son, Henley but is he really Judah's?

In part two of the book, Mary Tryphina is an old woman and still married to Judah, who still lives in the shed. The book goes on to follow her, her children, and her grandchildren, as well as the Sellers family.

I am a big fan of Michael Crummey. I absolutely loved the River Thieves and really enjoyed his follow up book, The Wreckage. He was born and raised in Newfoundland and it's the setting for his books. He took a departure from his usual writing style with Galore and I wasn't sure that I would enjoy it as much as his other works. He used a lot of folklore and some magical realism.

I am not a fan of magical realism at all. However, when I found out the Michael Crummy was finally coming to Vancouver (a friend of mine and I kept bugging the Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival until they finally invited him) I had to buy Galore to get it signed. (See my meeting Michael Crummey post.)

That was back in October and now I finally got to read it. I was quite surprised by it. Even though I usually have a very strong dislike for magical realism, I actually liked this book. Though those parts were not my favorite by any stretch, Crummey is such a gifted writer that I was able to lose myself in the story. He has such strong character development and let me tell you, there were a lot of characters. His poetic prose from his other books was still there and pulled me in. I wonder what his next book will bring?


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