There are books that you enjoy and read through at your normal pace, and there are books that you savor and take your time with. Galore falls into the latter category. Part folklore, part sweeping family saga, Galore is a strange, quiet book that’s infused with magical realism and the gritty hardships faced by a small, isolated fishing village in Newfoundland.
The book begins with a pale, mute man named Judah being discovered in the belly of a whale that’s washed ashore. Even after he’s been scrubbed clean, he reeks of rotting fish (and will smell that way for the rest of his life). No one knows anything about him, but the superstitious villagers are quick to blame him for every ill that befalls Paradise Deep. He eventually earns their respect, and his story becomes irrevocably intertwined with the villagers of Paradise Deep and the nearby Gut for generations to come.
Storytelling plays an important role throughout the novel, and it comes as no surprise that the author, Michael Crummey, is himself a fantastic storyteller. The book is arranged somewhat chronologically, with each new generation succeeding the previous one, but plot is by no means linear. As I stated before, Galore is a quiet book that isn’t necessarily plot-driven, but Crummey infuses the story with several humorous, fantastical twists that keep the reader hooked (one surprising sub-plot involving Mr. Gallery, his wife, and a priest was particularly delightful).
Yet for all its magical elements, the human aspect of the book was what I found to be the most powerful. Since the book is multi-generational and covers about a two hundred year span, there are a lot of characters to keep track of. A lot. Crummey makes it easy for the reader to remember many of his characters, however, because of the way he developed them and made their interactions with one another memorable. I loved this scene where one boy, Eli, spends his time keeping his cousin, who was badly burned in an accident, company:
[Eli] could guess the torment Tryphie was suffering from his own injury and he did his best to divert his cousin’s attention, fabricating elaborate histories for the vessels at anchor on the waterfront. Even the most pedestrian flat-bottomed tub battled storms and pirates and giant squid that had to be fended off with aces and swords in order to make harbor in Paradise Deep.
At first he did his best to make Tryphie laugh as well, before he saw how excruciating laughter was. Eli staring out the window as his cousin bawled through the pain, a sick roil in his gut. It was an intimacy too adult for the boys, layered with guilt and frustration, with affection and pit and resentment.
Other characters had equally memorable interactions with each other for much different reasons. I laughed at this post-coital scene:
Lizzie reached down to cup Callum’s penis, the mysterious little creature spent and still wet, like something half-drowned and just clinging to life. The old woman’s snores echoing from the back room. —I hate your mother, Lizzie whispered to him. And she felt her husband’s cock stir in her hand.
Crummey is a master at including these intimate moments between characters (granted, not all are quite as intimate as the previous excerpt). The people of Paradise Deep and the Gut are hardened and live a much harsher reality than I do, but it’s hard not to relate–or at the very least empathize–with their experiences.
I realize the book isn’t for everyone (as a matter of fact, the first time I tried reading it I had to put it aside in favor of something else because I couldn’t stay focused), but if you’re not turned off by slower-paced books, Galore is definitely worth checking out. I’m glad I picked it up again because once I got sucked in I couldn’t put the book down. I know it’s still relatively early in the year to be saying this, but I daresay this book will be somewhere on my Best of 2011 list. I loved it.
Galore was released by Other Press on March 29, 2011.