Watching Judah emerge from the whale’s guts, King-me felt the widow was birthing everything he despised in the country, laying it our before him like a taunt. 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. – from Galore, page 77 –
Michael Crummey’s fantastical family saga begins in the latter part of the 18th century, around the time of the Napoleonic Wars, in the fictional town of Paradise Deep, Newfoundland. A whale beaches itself and the townspeople are shocked to discover a man in its belly who they christen Judah. Judah’s skin is pale, and he emits a strong odor of fish – a smell that never goes away. Mute and odd, Judah is viewed alternately as a curse and a good luck charm. It is Judah’s story which weaves through the novel, connecting two families and symbolizing the importance of family lore and history.
Galore is, at its heart, a tale of family connections and the power of storytelling. The two families in the book (the Devines and the Sellers) descend from Devine’s Widow, an elderly woman whose powers suggest witchcraft to many, and King-Me Sellers, a gruff business man who has never forgiven the Widow for her rejection of him.
There was nothing to the woman but sinew, her body like a length of hemp rope. But she’d brought most of them into the world and delivered their children as well. She sat with the dying and washed and laid out the corpses. She seemed a gatekeeper between two worlds whose say-so they were helpless to carry on without. – from Galore, page 25 –
Crummey takes his readers along a crooked and convoluted journey over the course of more than 100 years, introducing a multitude of unique and quirky characters. A helpful family tree is provided at the beginning of the novel which keeps all the connections straight – but, it is the folklore and rumor, and the personalities of the characters which drive the narrative. There is a feeling of other-worldliness to the novel – a sense that life is circular, that history repeats itself, that family stories go on and on, replaying themselves, and becoming more fantastical, that they are part of who we are and who we become.
Crummey’s skill at character development is evident from the beginning. Despite their oddness, his characters are believable, intriguing, and very real. So many of these characters were memorable. Two of my favorites were the Trim brothers – Obediah and Azariah – who are the keepers of the history of all the families of the town. They know all the connections, and can recite all the stories – their knowledge of the townpeople’s genealogy “biblical in its detail.”
They were practical and serious and outlandishly foreign. They described the deathly ill as wonderful sick. Anything brittle or fragile or tender was nish, anything out of plumb or uneven was asquish. They called the Adam’s apple a kinkorn, referred to the Devil as Horn Man. They’d once shown the doctor a scarred vellum copy of the Bible that Jabez Trim had cut from a cod’s stomach nearly a century past, a relic so singular and strange that Newman asked to see it whenever he visited, leafing through the pages with a kind of secular awe. He felt at times he’d been transported to a medieval world that was still half fairy tale. – from Galore, page 156 –
Galore is sprawling, rich, and delightful. It is not surprising that it has been short listed for several literary awards and has won both the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book (Canada and the Caribbean) and the Canadian Authors Association Literary Award for Fiction. I loved this book for its tall tales, its surprising twists, and the characters which people its pages. Crummey understands the value of a good story and the lore and fantasy which are at the heart of family histories.
Readers who want to lose themselves in a book, and who wish to immerse themselves in a family saga rich in folklore, will be well served by picking up a copy of Galore.
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