Tag Archives: Michael Crummey

The Innocents: The Unexpected Gripping Plot in 19th Century Rural Newfoundland

Michael Crummey is one of my favourite authors. I read River Thieves in graduate school when I had lots of Thoughts and Ideas (I suppose I still do, but they are buried deep beneath Responsibilities) and loved it. Since then I’ve loved Galore and Sweetland and you would do well to read them all. Actually they all make pretty good Halloween/winter curl-up reading, Sweetland in particular (as a ghost story).

Anway. The Innocents follows Evered and Ada on this totally barren and isolated outcrop of Newfoundland in the I’m not-sure-when-but-at-least-a-few-hundred-years-ago as they struggle – like really struggle – to stay alive after their parents and sister die. They struggle in the physical ways of starvation and storms and bears (those Can Lit majors looking for another bear novel on which to write a thesis need look no further). They struggle more in the psychological loneliness of being without any other companionship than one another. Not knowing how to read, and with limited access to stories, in the few instances when others cross their paths, one of their most heart breaking revelations is how much is unknown and lost to them because they don’t have stories to share.

The land is a character of its own with incredible richness in its description (though not in a bogged down detailed way) and the tension between its claustrophobia and endless – if dangerous – expanse is yet another way in which horror is visited upon the two children.

They do encounter horror both from the natural and human worlds. Human horrors in the form of colonialism, the barbarity of humanity when pushed to its extremes (think cannibalism), the cruelty of capitalism in the early fisheries and the stricture of religions. Actually, in contrast, the natural horrors feel less vicious and purposeful, more accidental in their cruelty, though still: flooding rain, short crop seasons, storms.

But the real heart and horror of the book is who and how Evered and Ada come to mean to one another. Alone for so long and dependent on one another for physical and psychological survival, their relationship encounters strain and then pushes into spaces of incest with a delicacy and sensitivity you might not believe til you read it.

It doesn’t sound like it would make for a compelling story: two orphans survive by fishing cod and have a complicated relationship. But boy-oh-boy is it gripping. Well worth the wait since Crummey’s last novel and one I strongly urge you to seek out!

Leave a comment

Filed under Canadian Literature, Fiction, Giller prize, Prize Winner

Galore: Gorgeous

                    

I picked up Michael Crummey’s Galore because a friend of mine suggested it was “the best book he ever read.” Bold claims from a well-read man. I admit being reluctant to read it because I’m using Crummey in my dissertation, and the idea of reading – for pleasure – an author that I’ve spent endless hours thinking about worried me.

(Aside: Longstanding debate between me and M. about whether or not someone can “read for fun” or whether any sort of reading is inherently “critical.” I err on the side of “reading for pleasure” and “reading for work,” and find that when I’m reading for pleasure I do not annotate; I do not fixate on symbols/images in the same preoccupied way I might while working; I do not consciously consider the novel as a national work… But, of course, I write this blog, and I *think* about what I read as I’m reading it: that is the work of a reader, right? I’m not sure why reading critically cannot also be pleasurable, for me, at least, reading and thinking are pleasurable activities. It just becomes “work” when I then have to write about it, compare it, map the themes and ra ra ra – gag).

I shouldn’t have worried. Galore is beautiful. The poetry of description, the balance of third person limited with third person omniscient sweeps the reader between the intimate thoughts of characters – spanning generations – and the intricacies of the community and the relationships in that community. I suppose it was purposeful that the reader is denied the third person limited perspective of Jonah (the man who opens the novel being born from the belly of a whale), but all the same, my only complaint is that we don’t get the chance to hear his thoughts. Of course, it’s appropriate that we don’t (Jonah is mute), just frustrating because of how much I *wanted* to read his view: a testament, I think, to the strength of his character.

Ambitious in its time-line, Galore maintains a surprising (and pleasurable) balance between the intimate lives of the families on the shore (set in Newfoundland) and the “bigger” concerns of a settlement coming into the 20th century (medicine, education, union organization). Highly recommend.

2 Comments

Filed under Canadian Literature, Erin's Favourite Books, Fiction, Prize Winner