Yes, it’s true: I have fallen under another bookspell. Unlike the two instances of this earlier in my reading year, with Sarah Waters and Hiromi Goto, this is with an author I haven’t read before: Michael Crummey.
And perhaps it is because I am spellbound, that I have added his writing to my MRE list, on the basis of a single book.
If you follow along here, you might recall that my devotion can be had for seemingly very little. I added Barbara Comyns to my list on the basis of a single unfinished book of hers and it remains, to this day, unfinished (although I have since read another of her novels).
You might be thinking this MRE status of mine is rather flimsy, when all is read and done.
Well, be that as it may, when I like something, I want more of it. (Which is also true when it comes to baked goods and sunny September afternoons like this one.)
And, after all, it’s the MRE list, not the MRE Right Now list. Sometimes part of the pleasure is in the anticipation.
And this is a practical matter with Michael Crummey’s work anyhow, because there are only three novels, Galore being his most recent. So if I were adding him to my MRERN list, I’d be one disappointed reader in about two weeks, when I’d be all out of his novels (although with stories and poetry still to satisfy, yes).
Enough of my bookish defensiveness: let me spell out the reasons that I adore Galore.
Although if you’re looking for a plot summary and details, you’d be best to look elsewhere.
When I opened up Galore, I fell in. I don’t want to interfere with that immersion for anyone else.
G is for Grace
Of all sorts, reverent and magical, unthinkable and unforgettable.
Quote: “Father Phelan claimed she was the only person in the new world he lived in fear of, which she dismissed as base flattery. –You’d be a half-decent priest if you gave up the drinking and whoring, she told him. — Half-decent, he said, wouldn’t be worth the sacrifice.”
A is for Awe
Because I truly felt that I was transported to a world half-fairy tale in this novel, just as the doctor says in the following quote. Although when I heard Michael Crummey interviewed on “The Next Chapter”, he said that originally he planned to use only tales he had heard as truth in this novel (and many of the stories you might think are outlandish are recounted events that residents shared with him as history, not fiction).
Quote: “They’d once shown the doctor a scarred vellum copy of the Bible that Jabez Trim had cut from a cod’s stomach nearly a century past, a relic so singular and strange that Newman asked to see it whenever he visited, leafing through the pages with a kind of secular awe. He felt at time he’d been transported to a medieval world that was still half fairy-tale.”
L is for Linger
The style takes some adjusting, some slowing, but once I had sunk into it, I only wanted to linger there. I rationed out my chapters like the community had to ration its food to make it through the winters. Whatever Michael Crummey wants to call a story, I’ll listen.
Quote: “It was called the French cemetery, King-me told him, because the first people buried there were sailors drowned when a French ship wrecked on the Tolt a hundred years before. Or because the land once belonged to a man named French who buried a wife and child during a typhoid outbreak before he was cut down himself. Sellers seemed to have no idea which story was the true source of the name and no obvious preference for one over the other.”
O is for Oddities
Comprised, in equal parts, of grace and awe.
Quote: “He’d filled his letters to Connecticut with the medical oddities he encountered, providing clinical descriptions alongside the apocryphal or speculative pathology he was offered by locals. He visited Red Head Cove where more than half the population had inherited red hair and freckled skin and hemophilia from a single foxy Irishman. He treated a five-year-old with webbed fingers that were somehow supposed to be a vestige of her grandfather’s tryst with a merwoman.”
R is for Rhythm
Even though he’s a poet, there are none of the long, lyric passages about the sea and the landscape that you might expect in a novel about Newfoundland. But the prose, even in its simplicity, begs to be read aloud. And not only the dialogue, but the exposition. Seems you don’t need to always be writing about tides and waves to have them buoying a poet’s ordinary prose.
“-He come right out of the whale’s belly, James Woundy announced, as if he had been the only one present to see it. –As God is my witness so he did. Just like that one Judas in the Bible.
–Not Judas, you arse.
James turned to look at Jabez Trim. — Well who was it then, Mr. Trim?
–Jonah, it was. Jonah was swallowed by the whale.
–You’re sure it weren’t Judas, Mr. Trim?”
E is for Enrapture
As if it wasn’t enough to have said that I was spellbound by this narrative. But sheesh: I can’t remember the last time that I found a story so overwhelmingiy good.
Quote: “They came finally to the consensus that life was a mystery and a wonder beyond human understanding, a conclusion they were comfortable with though there was little comfort in the thought.”
Companion Reads: Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits, Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin (for the ideas on what makes story and the intersection between fact and fantasy), Timothy Findley’s Pilgrim.