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Galore – Book Review

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.

Highly recommended.

  • Quality of Writing:
  • Characters:
  • Plot:

Overall Rating:

Other reviews of this book may be found through the following links:

Devourer of Books
House of the Seven Tails
Indie Reader Houston
Linus’s Blanket
Picky Girl

Join the discussion of this book on BOOK CLUB here.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review on my blog.

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11 Comments

  1. May 3, 2011    

    Wow – that is an impressive number of 5 star ratings! This has been on my radar for a while, but it has yet to turn up in my library. I’ll ensure I get it out as soon as it appears as it looks fantastic!

  2. May 3, 2011    

    I do love a good family saga. They don’t seem to be that popular these days. This one sounds fantastic, so I’m adding it to my wish list.

  3. May 3, 2011    

    Great review. I’ve been reading this as well, and I was really enjoying it, but got distracted by something else and your review is a good reminder of why I should get back to it. I have a Net Galley and I don’t have the family tree, which I think would be a wonderful tool.

  4. May 3, 2011    

    I am a huge Micheal Crummy fan! I met him last fall at the ?Vancouver International book Festival. ‘Galore’ was terrific as was an earlier work of his, “The River Thieves.’

  5. May 4, 2011    

    I have this book up for review soon, and I love the fact that it has such quirky and believable characters. I am also curious as to how it spends so much time with such little page-space. Great review! I am glad that you liked this one!

  6. May 4, 2011    

    Lovely review! I’ve heard such good things about this one, and I can’t wait to pick it up myself. I was worried that the author might not be able to successfully write such a generational saga, since the page count is smaller than a lot of others, but your review convinces me it’s not a problem.

  7. May 30, 2011    

    The fact it has taken me this long to respond to your comments, shows just how crazy my life has been of late!

    Jackie: Can’t wait to see what you think of this book!

    Kathy: This is one crazy family (actually two)…hope you enjoy it!

    Laura: The family tree really helps.

    Teddy: I need to get The River Thieves and try it out…

    Heather: He covers a lot of time in a relatively short number of pages!

    Jenna: It is an awesome book – hope you enjoy it 🙂

  8. Andy Andy
    July 7, 2011    

    I’m having a hard time putting this one down between the fantastical people and the descriptions of the harsh life back in the day in Newfoundland – given me a whole new appreciatation of such a unique place and whets my appetite to learn more. I was originally turned on to this by a review I read somewhere that likened it to A Hundred Years of Solitude (one of my alltime personal favorites) – they are similar to an extent and both are delightful page-turners – but the differences – the one is tropical and lush and passionate and latin – the other is northern and harsh and reserved and Canadian (to the extent that Newfies are Canadian) really sets them apart in so many ways. Haven’t checked in on your blog in awhile Caribousmom – but so glad you also enjoyed this and gave it 5 stars all the way. Totally deserves it.

  9. July 10, 2011    

    Andy: So glad you agree with me 🙂 I have not read Marquez’s book (I admit, it scares me a little because I am typically not a huge fan of magical realism…and yet I did love Galore which has some of that in it). Hope you won’t be a stranger and I can lure you back here soon!!

  10. omegasept omegasept
    December 16, 2011    

    After hearing an interview with Crummy on NPR I downloaded this book on my NOOK..and did not stop reading until I was finished. Such a good read. When I finished I was telling my 87 year old neighbor in Florida about the wonderful story. She grew up in Louisiana. Her eyes lit and she told me her Father’s family was from New Foundland and he had moved to Louisiana in the 1920’s. Her Father’s stories of his homeland were reflected in the book. She is just waiting
    for her post cataract surgery reading glasses to read Galore. Love it.

  11. December 17, 2011    

    Omegasept: So glad you loved this book – it was such a wonderful saga!

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