Galore by Michael Crummey
Galore by Michael Crummey
Galore is a word not often used in everyday conversation – when I hear it I think of the east coast, the way I think of Britt when I hear someone say Ho-lee! Galore is from a Gaelic word meaning “to sufficiency” or “in plenty, abundantly”.
The novel Galore has indeed sufficiency, and plenty and abundance. It is a rich, galloping story of galore and starvation – of body and soul, for the Newfoundland families we follow through six generations leading up to the Great War.
We meet King-me Sellers, the merchant, a man of wealth. Mary Tryphena – and Judah, a man who appears out of the belly of a beached whale, and seems to be an omen of good luck – ushering in years of “fish galore” after years of misery and starvation. Judah who smells like a fish – a curse that will never leave him and will be passed to his descendants, a blessing in the end.
In the early days Mass was held in the fish shed, everyone came. “From Christmas Day through to the Feast of the Epiphany the nights were ruled by bands of mummers roaming from house to house in the dark…..dressed in outlandish disguises, brin sacks ad old dresses or aprons, coats worn backwards and legs through arms of shirts…men dressed in women’s clothes and women in men’s”. This year, the first winter after the arrival of Judah it seems that good times are returned.
When a young woman dies in childbirth the new minister is appalled at the calmness of the midwife as she tells him the father is unknown, the baby is “moss-born – a merry begot” – the minister aghast at the thought of having to bury a “woman of loose morals and a baptism for a bastard child.” This man will not last long in the outports. The cemetery in a meadow high enough that the graves look out to the ocean. Visiting the east coast of Newfoundland and wandering in the tiny settlement graveyards I often thought about those graves, in a place where people who had come from Ireland were buried, looking back toward their homeland.
This is a novel rich in character, language and the culture of Newfoundland’s history – and superstition. “Seven knots on a piece of string worn on your wrist to cure a toothache. A potato carried in a pocket to relieve rheumatism.”
Michael Crummey has created people who come alive on his pages – a fisherman, sitting alone by the water “overtaken by a puzzling nostalgia” for his long dead daughter – “and she was gone now, her childish secrets with her. There was no neater sum of how life unfolded, he thought, and he was ambushed by a crying jag, sobs tearing through him as ragged and relentless as a seizure”.
But there is humour as well. When the first one room school house opens, a young man who has the mind of a child enjoys practicing his letters and numbers with the little children, and could be left by the teacher to supervise in her absence – until one day “she came back to find a row of boys standing with their pants around their ankles and James Woundy measuring their hairless peckers with her wooden ruler. The girls writing numbers in careful rows on their slates as James called them out.”
In June each year the priest is off to even more isolated communities “baptizing the children born and formalizing the marriages undertaken in his absence, saying a funeral mass for those who’d succumbed through the winter.”
The days of plenty that came after Judah’s arrival are long since gone, now followed by “years of extravagant misery”. It is a grim trip that spring to the tiny outports where many are found dead of starvation in their beds – babies have been born and died.
As time goes on a Doctor comes to stay – Dr. Newman, who finds that he unexpectedly loves the life of isolation in this tiny community – and finds the woman he will love here as well. A meal of tea and bread and molasses sustaining many of the patients who have travelled long distances to see him. Times are hard again, many of the men are now going off to Labrador to find work fishing, others are leaving for the eastern United States for education and employment. The Unions are coming in, causing both strife and benefit for the fishermen. There is now a priest from Rome – and division among the population, as he enforces his own rules and Catholic children are removed from the local school and taught in the church. There are no more church approved “mixed” marriages, some stop attending this church now ruled by some make-believe world of the Vatican.
As we come toward the end of the novel those who we knew as infants are now men – working for the Unions, going off to war. Others are now elderly, and many have died. I loved my time with these people and was sorry to see this novel come to an end.
Galore has been shortlisted for the 2009 Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction – the award is announced on 17 November. This paper will have gone to press before we know if Galore has won – it is certainly my first choice.