Galore by Michael Crummey – and ruminations on the passage of time.
I’ve just spent three weeks in a small square house – they call it a biscuit box in Newfoundland. At the very end of the road overlooking the sea. No Internet or cell phone reception unless we go about 20 minutes up the road. It is silent except for the radio turned on the listen to the news, but mostly we forget to do so. We can get the Clarenville Packet on Thursday. If we do go all the way to Clarenville on a Saturday we can also get the St. John’s Telegram. Between them they have enough crossword puzzles to get my husband through the week. (This review appeared in the North Star while we were away - but due to being on "down time" and lack of internet I neglected to put it online - so here goes a few weeks late.)
What we noticed most here last fall, apart from the beauty of the place and the absence of distraction, is that the few people who still live in this harbour work hard to cobble together a living. It is even more noticeable this spring. The last week of April and the first week of May were warm(ish) and amazingly sunny – the brightness here is extreme. The fishermen were out to their crab pots and lobster traps. Then the pack ice came in – the harbour is white. A dead whale against the shore a feeding frenzy for the gulls – and the bald eagles that arrived one day. The ice moved out, some small icebergs went by, and the ice came back in again. One day I watched some men race down to the shore, launch a boat, and standing up, without lifejackets, they worked their way out through the ice, into what seemed impenetrable whiteness before they disappeared. I can only assume they saw something we could not – perhaps seals. They returned many hours later and what they did out there all that time I do not know, but I was glad to know they were safely home.
I’d wanted to re-read Michael Crummey’s novel Galore and now seemed exactly the right time, and here the right place.
Galore was published in 2009 to great acclaim and it is still, I think, a truly great novel. I wrote a much longer review all those years ago that you can find on our website. This time it is enough to say that you’ll follow the lives of individuals and families who live on a stretch of shore in Newfoundland from the 1800’s to the end of the First World War.
There are wonderful and strange stories of a man who climbed out of the belly of a whale, and a woman who could make warts disappear overnight. There is a doctor from Boston who finds a life here he could never have imagined. There is the merchant who makes his money from the labour of the fishermen, buying low and selling high until even he can only sell low and looses most of what he made. There are love affairs and babies born. So many do not survive. There are years of plenty and years of starvation, and life moves relentlessly on.
There are scenes that stay with me. One is of Callum mourning, years later, the death of his young daughter. “he walked down to the Rooms to be alone for awhile. He opened the doors onto the water and sat looking out at the still pool of the cove… He could barely picture her now, a little redheaded girl climbing into his lap, insisting he pay attention to some childish picture…and he was ambushed by a crying jag, sobs tearing through him as ragged and relentless as a seizure.” His wife finds him there, and puts her hand on his head “Beloved”.
So much loss, and so much love. To the doctor, “Mary Tryphena said, It’s the only thing the world give us, you know. The right to say yes or no to love”. I thought, as I read this book, about the past and the people who lived it. We think also of our own ancestors who lived so long ago, and though we may know some of their history we do not know the intimacies of their lives. We can only guess about their loves, and regrets. In Galore Michael Crummey has taken a period of time now gone, and created characters who become real to the reader though they live such different lives than we do now. A fabulous book by a great writer.