Wow – I just finished and I’m flabbergasted – at a loss for words. No, it’s not a 10, not even a 9.5 like Bring Up the Bodies. But it’s sooo good.
The story takes place from about the 1790s to 1916 or so, six generations of Devine and Seller family histories, mostly in a small community in Newfoundland where the livelihood derives basically from fishing. The cast of characters is huge and there are two genealogical charts in the front. Still, I’d suggest you keep a record as you go of who is whom, whom they marry, whom their children are. It gets way more complex than the tables show. (See notes but there are spoilers there) Furthermore, much of the plot and the themes are based on this genealogy – heritage.
The language is rather plain, rolling maybe, not much metaphor but what is there is perfect. There are a few words of dialect but not many – there isn’t much “history’ per se until the latter part of the book. There is a lot of Biblical allusion from Jonah and the whale and the begats to teaching disciples to fish and more.
There are those who call this book “magical realism,” but not I. For me it was a telling of the superstitions changing into a modern view in terms of religion, technology, medicine and other matters. I had my doubts for awhile because the magical realism wasn’t working right – in spite of the epigraph.
I suppose one of the basic themes is the changes of the 18th and 19th centuries – the latter of the 17th to show how it was, the 18th and 19th to outline the need and how persistent beliefs can be, and finally to the changes themselves.
Mostly this is a grand old family saga detailing the labyrinthian relationships of families in small remote areas where new ideas have not quite caught up with superstition.