Review: Galore, by Michael Crummey

The photo here is a haunting photo I found online that I believe to be a depiction of what it was like when Judah emerges from the belly of the whale (no spoiler here – this is within the first 6 pages.)

To begin, here is the “About this Book” from the publisher’s site (Random House):

Sprawling and intimate, stark and fantastical, Galore is a novel about the power of stories to shape and sustain us. This is Michael Crummey’s most ambitious and accomplished work to date.

An intricate family saga and love story spanning two centuries, Galore is a portrait of the improbable medieval world that was rural Newfoundland, a place almost too harrowing and extravagant to be real. Remote and isolated, exposed to savage extremes of climate and fate, the people of Paradise Deep persist in a realm where the line between the everyday and the otherworldly is impossible to distinguish.

Propelled by the disputes and alliances, grievances and trade-offs that bind the Sellers and Devine families through generations, Galore is alive with singular characters, and an uncommon insight into the complexities of human nature.

After having unfairly judged this book on many things before reading it (ex. the cover, the summary, the name of the author), I was pleased to discover that when I finished reading the last page, I had really enjoyed it. It was however, only when I realized that the main character was the place, Newfoundland, rather than any of the characters. This is a format that I’m really unfamiliar with and I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t feeling emotionally attached to any of the characters, nor why they came and went quickly in the progression of the book. I would get to know a character and then they would suddenly get married, have a baby, or die without much of a fuss. I felt cheated in a way. Once I had realized that they were merely supporting characters to help me better understand the main character, Newfoundland, I was much more interested in the story. This also led me to wonder whether I was reading historical fiction or simply fiction. Clearly living men can’t emerge out of the belly of a whale, but maybe that’s just a reference to the magical lore and history of a place like Newfoundland. I could picture elders telling their children stories like those that occur in the book. Maybe in a cold, damp cottage on the shore with salted fish hanging to dry in the attic, the smell of salt, earth and cold on the air. Huddled around a wood stove to keep warm. You can imagine that to occupy those dark night in a place like Newfoundland at the turn of the century one had to tell stories. So, as you may have guessed, I’ve decided this book is historical fiction.

Having decided that the book was a historical fiction with Newfoundland as the main character, I had a better understanding of Crummey’s writing and therefore much more of an appreciation for the novel.

Now embarrassingly enough, I sped read the ending in order to loan the book to my friend Steph before we parted ways at the subway station and apparently I missed a key part of the ending. Now this isn’t one of those “…wait, the main character is actually a ghost?” endings, but there’s still an element of “wait, what?” that I definitely missed on the first read. I had to borrow the book the next weekend at the cottage from another book club member so I could read the ending again. It made the rest of the book sit differently with me and that’s when I had truly decided that I liked it.

Recommendalbility: I would recommend this book only to those who have a keen interest in Can-Lit or magical realism. It’s the perfect book for someone who’s read a lot of conventional fiction and is ready for a book that doesn’t follow a traditional treatment of plot or character development.

This book made me think of what I feel is my new, greatest idea. I’ll explain it in an upcoming post.

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