There was a copy of Michael Crummey’s Galore with my name on it under the Christmas tree. When the rush died down, I got into it. I’d read and enjoyed his River Thieves and The Wreckage.
I started the book not sure if it would be my kind of read. There’d been much talk in interviews with Crummey about the paranormal or witchcraft-y nature of much of the story. I’m not big on suspension of disbelief.
Yes, this is a story featuring a ghost, curses being put on people, warts being charmed away, squid pretty much marching single-file into a boat, and, most famously, a grown man being born out of the belly of a whale. But Crummey’s writing skills are such that he can spin a yarn like that in a way that allows, even makes, skeptics like me gladly swallow it whole.
Well. When I finished the last page of Galore, I went right back to page one and started again. His first two books were fabulous reading, but this one tops them both. He just keeps getting better.
Galore is an epic, covering six generations and well over a century in the life of two neighbouring outports. There are Catholics throwing rocks at Protestants; merchants and fishermen at each other’s throats; the fishery is feast or famine. None of these things are strikingly original, but then neither is cop catches killer. It’s the telling of a story that makes it either spellbinding or a snooze, and Crummey knows how to tell a story.
In many ways, the book is a study in contrasts. The two communities are Paradise Deep and The Gut. I’ll let you guess which features rough tilts with dirt floors and which features mullioned windows. In one, a family voyages to England to find a wife for a son; in the other, a young girl is married off to a man to save him from hanging.
Richness of language is one of the book’s finest points. The whole work is a celebration of Newfoundland words and expressions. Arses go dunch. Men tell boys to shag off home out of it. Men making a pitch to a father for the daughter’s hand say, “She won’t starve. She’ll be looked after.”
I found striking similarities between Galore and Random Passage. Each is a gritty tale of life in early Newfoundland, with a timeline spanning generations, and unforgettable characters. And reading it, you find yourself saying, “Yes, this is what it was really like back then.” There’s no way of knowing, of course, but some writing has that utterly convincing ring of truth. Random Passage did, and Galore certainly does.
Not all the characters are purely fictional. William Coaker enters the story and is prominent in the later chapters, and a doctor clearly modeled on Dr. John Olds of Twillingate is important throughout. These provide for a delicious swaying back and forth between history and fiction, adding further to the ‘this is what it was really like’ feeling.
Mind – it’s a character book. If you need a strong plot to keep you wondering what’s coming next or who really dunnit, Galore may not be for you. Not that it doesn’t have a plot, but the story is not as much about what happens as it is about how people deal with events, or with things that were expected to happen, but didn’t. And much of the book is about what is longed for, deeply, desperately, that never does materialize, either through vindictive denial, human frailty, corruption, or worst of all, plain inadvertence.
Galore is not an ‘up’ book. If you dot your “i”s with little hearts, best move on. Nothing to read here. If, however, you’re interested in an unvarnished tale about the minor joys and major trials of outport life a few centuries ago, with a generous dose of charms, curses, second sight, and a few things there aren’t even names for, there’s an absorbing read awaiting you in Galore.