I’m just about to start posting the reviews of the “Canada Reads” novels that I’m going to be reading (along with, hopefully, lots of other Canadians) but before those start, I’m going to review the book I would pick if I were chosen to be a “Canada Reads” panelist.
Michael Crummey’s first novel, River Thieves, gained lots of critical success although it wasn’t a favourite of mine personally — I found it another example of literary fiction that was too caught up in the beauty of the writing for me to concentrate on the story. His second, The Wreckage, didn’t seem to be as highly acclaimed although I liked it better — because it told a great story with strong characters. But Galore, his third novel, is Crummey’s best by far. It combines the best elements of both his earlier novels — it’s literary fiction where the language absolutely sings to you, yet never obscures the strong story and vivid, memorable characters.
Galore is a Newfoundland story, deeply rooted in the soil of a fictional — but typical — outport community, but it’s such a broadly human story that despite its strong sense of place I believe it will appeal to readers everywhere. It’s the story of a the life of a community, spanning at least a century, and of the characters who make up that community. The novel is peopled with merchants and fishermen, wise-women and lovers, outsiders and insiders, Catholics and Protestants — but every one is an individual, a real breathing human being as much as he or she is representative of a type.
Galore combines history, mythology and folklore so skillfully the reader is left to decide where one leaves off and another begins. It starts with a man found, Jonah-like, alive inside the belly of a beached whale, and unrolls through the tale of that man’s strange life and every life that touches his down through five generations. Fortunes rise and fall, hearts are broken and reputations made, in a community called Paradise Deep that at the beginning of the story is so isolated from the outside world it might as well be its own island — though by the time the story ends, in the early twentieth century, Paradise Deep has become connected to the rest of Newfoundland and the wider world outside, for better and for worse.
I found this novel magical and completely engaging from start to finish. It is definitely going to be on my Top Ten list for this year, and I’m pretty sure it’s the novel I would champion if I ever got the call to come be a panelist on “Canada Reads.” No lover of historical fiction should miss this book, and if you think historical fiction is not your thing, well, you might want to give this a try anyway. It just might captivate you.