by Michael Crummey
2009 / 352 pages
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WARNING – These are notes – there are most certainly SPOILERS!
I didn’t think I was going to be all that involved for the first couple pages, but on page 5. when a live man is pulled from a recently dead beached whale, my interest piqued. This story takes place in 18th century Newfoundland – not a place I’m familiar with save for “The Colony of Unrequited Dreams” by Wayne Johnson which takes place there in the early 20th century and “Shipping News” by Annie Proulx which takes place in the mid to late 20th century. All I know about 18th century Newfoundland is that it was British and mostly used as a fishing colony.
Newfoundland is the red on the far right in this map:
Also see: English fisheries
"Phelan heard confessions in safe houses on the southern shore of the Avalon, celebrated clandestine Masses in the fishing rooms of Harbour Grace and Carbonear, offered the sacraments and last rites in the kitchens and bedrooms of the Irish scattered the length of the coast."
pp. 17-18 – (Kindle)
Below is a gif of the Southern Shore of the Avalon (a peninsula) as mentioned above. There is a very tiny island named Paradise at the top of the map. There is a community called Gut about 250 miles north near Deadman’s Bay. You can find these places on GoogleMaps but I really think Crummey was inventing most of the story –
In the story, the main families live in two small very inter-related settlements, Paradise Deep and the Gut, which are set pretty near to each other. The families are inter-related.
Oct 8 – 8:17 AM – page 49
Oh I am so enjoying this book – Crummey writes with his own little style telling a crisp little story. I laugh and enjoy. I love these books of that cold north country of the very olden days, which in some ways resemble “The Long Ships” (Frans G. Bengtssonand) and “The Greenlanders” (Jane Smiley).
Crummy provides two short pages of genealogy which greatly assist the reader even though they are only 3 generations or so. – I’ve already used them to find the relationship between Absolom and Mary Devine.
Sometimes there are words which are really difficult – “brin,” for instance as used in “brin boots,” and “brin veils.” “Brin” means “one of the radiating sticks of fan. The outermost are larger and longer, and are called panaches,” according to the old Webster dictionary. The Oxford says it’s “water saturated or strongly impregnated with salt.” There are many other definitions out there, too – seemingly not related to each other.
I’ll go on my own and say that whatever it is, boots, veil, is so heavily coated and saturated with salt it changes appearance.
The language is okay to this point – nothing spectacular as far as I see. It’s a bit old fashioned to suit the tale of the 18th century and has these “words” once in awhile.
Setting – 17th – 20th centuries
Theme(s) – every kind of change, every kind of family relationship, tenuous hold on life, superstition vs modern ideas –
Since looking up that genealogical business of Absolom’s relationship to Mary, I’m really checking out the first parts of the book more closely now – what I’ve read so far to make sure I didn’t miss something.
And I just now caught the meaning of the epigraph:
“The invincible power that has moved the world is unrequited, not happy, love.”
GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ
Oh wow – yes! And I see the magical realism etc. – NO! – discuss later –
And now I see all the great review blurbs in the front! This is exactly the kind of book I would have picked off the shelves and bought. The reviews are mostly Canadian and British but they’re good! And the book won several awards as well.
Awards (listed at Wikipedia)
Winner of the Commonwealth Writers‘ Prize for Best Book, Caribbean & Canada
Winner of the Canadian Authors’ Association Literary Award
Finalist for the Governor General’s Award for Fiction
Finalist for the Thomas Head Raddall Award for Atlantic Books
Finalist for the Winterset Award 
Why am I reading so slowly – why am I writing out these tedious notes? I think it’s because I don’t want it to end? I want to really understand the book?
(alpha order – SPOILERS! )
Abel Devine – son of Eli Sellers and Hannah Blake
Absolom Sellers- King-Me’s orphaned grandson – father of Levi and Henley – 4 others with Ann Hope.
Ann Hope – married to Absolom mother of Levi and 4 others
Azariah Trim – son of Jabez and Olive Trim, brother of Obediah
Barnaby Shambler – saloon owner and politico
Bride – married to Henley – widowed – mother of Harold/Typhie
Callum – son of Widow Devine and Patrick Devine (deceased) also father of Mary and Lazarus
Daniel Woundy – a man form another settler family – very large and strange
Devine’s Widow – mother of Callum Devine
Druce – married to Patrick Devine, mother of Eli and 2 others.
Eli – son of Patrick and Druce – marries Hannah, father of Abel.
Rev. Eldridge Dodge – Episcopalian – father of Florence Dodge who married Levi Sellers
Esther Newman – daughter of the Eli and Hannah – granddaughter of Bride and Newman
Hannah Blade – marries Eli, son Patrick who was son of Mary and Judah
Henley – son of Mary Devine and Absolom Sellers, father of Tryphie
Harold Newman – American doctor – marries Bride, father of Eli and Esther (others?)
Jabez Trim – part-time preacher, works with the priest – marries Olive, adopt Obediah and birth Azariah
James Woundy – from another settler family – very large and strange
Judah – the mysterious man found in the whale
King-Me Sellers – patriarch of the group in Paradise Deep – rich – a merchant of sorts
Lazarus Sellers – son of King-me, son of Callum and Lizzie. Mary’s Devine’s brother, friend of Judah
Lizzie Devine – daughter of King-me and Selina. Lizzie is the mother of Mary Devine and Lazarus Devine.
Martin Gallery – marries Virtue Clouter (a servant for Absolom’s family from England). Dies but his ghost sticks around.
Mary Tryphena – daughter of Lizzie and Callum Devine. Married Judah. Mother of Patrick (by Judah) and Henley (by Absolom)
Obediah Trim – adopted son of Jabez and Olive Trim brother to Azariah
Fr. Phelan – a rogue priest – comes around once in awhile, sleeps with one of the local women, performs weddings, confessions, baptisms, and so on for all. Wanted by the Catholic Church for questioning.
Fr. Reddigan – replaced Fr. Phelan –
Ralph Stone – from a shipwreck, a black man lives at Nigger Pond.
Sarah Woundy – the mother of 17 children – maybe partly Indian
Selina Sellers – married to King-me, she came from England
The Toucher triplets – Alphonsos, ?, ?
Typhie/Harold – son of Henley and Bride
Rev. Violet – Methodist minister –
Virtue Gallery – a servant from England for King-me’s family, married to Martin Gallery, widowed, ghost of Martin sticks around.
“Coaker himself was a bit of an enigma. No one knows why he did some of the things he did (his about-face on conscription being the most obvious example). And he was almost certainly gay and living the closest thing to an openly gay life it was possible for a public figure to live at the time. The union was basically a one man show and once Coaker left it fizzled into irrelevance. An interesting character who has shown up in one disguise or another in several Newfoundland novels.”
CHAPTER 1 –
The man from the whale is named Judah (a cross between Jonah and Judas so we don’t know if this guy is a miracle bringing good or a traitor bringing bad. From the outset we know that Judah will marry Mary Devine – but that will be quite a story.
Judah is accused of bringing the bad fishing but brings luck in it instead. He is kept in a shed near the Devines because he stinks so bad from the whale. But he survives the winter some way.
Mary gets love signs from Absolom, her cousin, whom she cannot marry. One is a written note which she and Judah take to Jared – she finds out about Absolom and Judah carries her home.
An historical note – There is an incident from the 18th century which gives account of one James Bartley who was swallowed by a whale and discovered 19 hours later when the whale was cut up by other sailors. He was supposedly bleached to a ghastly white.
“Even the novel’s unlikely opening scene, in which a man is sliced from the belly of a beached whale, can claim the historical precedent of a nineteenth century sailor named James Bartley, who was allegedly swallowed whole by an enraged Sperm whale and then extracted alive from its stomach after it was pursued and killed, his hair and skin bleached a ghastly white by the animal’s digestive juices.”
*** Mummers (pg 47 and on):
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, five or six to a group and all dressed in outlandish disguises, brin sacks and old dresses or aprons, coats worn backwards and legs through the arms of shirts that were tied at the waist as breeches, men dressed in women’s clothes and women in men’s, underclothes worn on the outside of their many layers.
Crummey, Michael (2011-03-29). Galore (p. 43). Random House Inc Clients. Kindle Edition.
Newfoundland Mummers (Wiki link)
“Mummering” is a very old Newfoundland custom that dates back to the time of the earliest settlers who came from England and Ireland. It shares common antecedents with the Mummers Play tradition, but in its current form is primarily a house-visiting tradition. Sometime during the Twelve Days of Christmas, usually on the night of the “Old Twelfth” (17 January; equivalent to 6 Jan in the old Julian calendar), people would disguise themselves with old articles of clothing and visit the homes of their friends and neighbours. They would at times cover their faces with a hood, scarf, mask or pillowcase to keep their identity hidden. In keeping with the theme of an inversion of rules, and of disguise, crossdressing was a common strategy, and men would sometimes dress as women and women as men. Travelling from house to house, some mummers would carry their own musical instruments to play, sing and dance in the houses they visited. The host and hostess of these ‘mummers parties’ would serve a small lunch which could consist of Christmas cake with a glass of syrup or blueberry or dogberry wine. Some mummers would drink a Christmas “grog” before they leave each house, a drink of an alcoholic beverage such as rum or whiskey. One important part of the custom was a guessing game to determine the identity of the visitors. As each mummers was identified, they would uncover their faces, but if their true identity is not guessed they did not have to unmask.
this painting and more at: http://www.nfinteractive.com/features/mummering.php
“On January 5, 1861, Governor A> Bannerman reported in a letter to Colonial Secretary John Kent that one “Isaac Mercer was murdered by some person or persons in disguise, unknown” in the community of Bay Roberts in Conception Bay.
“According to Newfoundland historian Paul O’Neill, Mercer’s party had been waylaid by mummers on the evening of December 28, 1860.
“Mercer’s death resulted in the passage of a Bill which prohibited the wearing of any disguise or mask in a public place in Newfoundland without direct permission o fa magistrate. Rural summering continued, however, and P.D. Devine observed that the law prohibiting summering was rarely enforced north of Conception Bay. ”
At a festival (Epiphany, no less) King-Me is told about Absolom’s love for Mary and the next spring Absolom leaves the country.
Mary gets many proposals but turns them all down. One of the great promises of all these guys is “You won’t starve.”
Along comes John Withycomb, the skipper of a “Spurriers ship” (another word – they make spurs? – a company from England?). He already has a wife –
During his proposal Mary realizes she wants to be a widow and have her own rights to her life and property.
And then a minister from the Church of England is sent when King-Me paid for it.
“The minister nodded again, contemplating a funeral for a woman of loose morals and a baptism for a bastard. He had a moment of real doubt then, not simple misgiving or hesitation but a profound fear that he’d been mistaken about himself or about God. He would live a long life—all of it from this day forward in the one and only parish of his ministry—before he experienced another like it.”
page 55 – Kindle
Rev Dodge overcomes himself and tends to the dead woman and her live but illegitimate baby. The baby is the child of one of a set of very bad identical triplets. No one will confront – seriously bad situation.
Here’s another new word – “Tolt” – I guess it means the hill or the countryside – maybe more related to a coastal area.
“The local word for a rocky hill is ‘tolt’ and there is an interesting story surrounding the origin of Hannah’s Tolt, located inland from Northern Bay near Welsh’s Pond. It occurred probably in the 1920s [or] 1930s. Late in the fall of the year when a crowd of women were in the woods berry-picking, Hannah Milley and her daughter must have been separated from the main group of women when a snowstorm suddenly broke out. They never made it back to the community. Search parties failed to turn up the bodies, but about 17 years later, a man named Lewis Crummey was in the woods partridge hunting and he found the two bodies and their rusted berry buckets down at the base of a tolt, which was then nicknamed Hannah’s Tolt.”
The “French Cemetery:”
“France contested ownership of Newfoundland from 1662 until 1713, when it ceded the island to Great Britain as part of the Treaty of Utrecht. During the Seven Years War France (and Spain) vied for control of Newfoundland and the valuable fisheries off its shores. Fighting ceased in 1763, with French fishing rights to the western coast enshrined in the Treaty of Paris. This period saw an influx of Breton, Norman and Basque fishermen to the region, though most of the activity was seasonal, and French settlement before the late 1800s was forbidden. Despite British disapproval, the clandestine settlement continued, though without the benefit of schools and essential services. As a result literacy among Francophones was uncommon in the twentieth century. In 1904 ownership of the region was transferred from France to the Colony of Newfoundland.
The story is not exactly chronological – In the book sequence Absolom returns from England prior to the Dodge’s church being built, but according to the church building episode, – he’s not there yet. Perhaps the return is told as a foreshadowing but it didn’t feel like one.
Dodge sets up a thoroughly Episcopalian church with cemetery rules and all so sectarian fighting begins including the removal of corpses.
John Withycomb’s hat is missing and found on Lazarus’ head. Judah ends up taking the blame for it although he couldn’t have done it – one of the triplets did it – again, they are not to be confronted – can’t tell them apart anyway.
King-me wants Judah convicted of it and hanged in London, he has no family to support him. He is mortally afraid of the old woman Widow Devine. Mary Devine marries Judah to give him a family to stand up for him (she wants to be a widow anyway).
The story is rather choppy going back and forth between the past and present and how Widow Devine married Patrick and how King-Me got set up and so enraged about the Widow.
I think Crummey is trying for some magical realism and it might have worked with this setting and these people but for some reason it doesn’t. Maybe Crummey’s is treating it like old wive’s tales and folklore rather than a description of the actual beliefs of the people – the narrator is pretty distanced.
“What Cabot found in June 1497 was not only a “Newfoundland” but also one of the largest fishing grounds ever discovered by man. The seas were teeming with cod, so much so, that the passage of ships was impeded.”
Welcome to Poole
Now on page 201 there is a problem with Absolom’s estate – he’s got two sons, one legitimate and one not. He is old and blind. I fear his wife will switch her son, Levi, for Mary’s – Henley. —
Biblical stories and references-
So many of the names are Biblical
Jonah in the whale – Judah
Lazarus returning to life
Jesus showing how to fill the boats with fish – Judah
Abraham and Isaac – (a reprieve from killing your own child – “That don’t sound like the God we know,” is the response. – Absolom/Henley
Jacob and Esau Levi /Henley with father Absolom and mother Ann Hope
The generational aspect – as I was writing out the character list I felt “son of daughter of married to…” was Biblical in some way.
The generations move on – people are born and fall in love and marry and give birth to others and die in all manner of ways. The churches change, the finances change, the weather changes, superstition lingers, the landscape does not change –
I don’t think this is a book of magical realism although it’s widely thought to be that – it’s a book of superstitions and change. When Father Phelan the rogue priest and Widow Devine are the powers that be the superstitions abounded. The Witch Devine was thought to cast spells and know the craft involved in healing by herbs and will. Father Phelan’s services were of the same nature and the ghost of Virtue’s husband. By the end of the book all that has changed – the stories remain but they aren’t really believed anymore
This is a site I found to help with the slang or language: http://www.heritage.nf.ca/dictionary/default.html