03 May 2011

Book Review: Galore

Title: Galore
Author: Michael Crummey
Publisher/Year: Other Press / 2011
Date Finished:
Source/Format: NetGalley / eBook

Buy | Borrow | Accept | Avoid

Synopsis from Publisher
When a whale beaches itself on the shore of the remote coastal town of Paradise Deep, the last thing any of the townspeople expect to find inside it is a man, silent and reeking of fish, but remarkably alive. The discovery of this mysterious person, soon christened Judah, sets the town scrambling for answers as its most prominent citizens weigh in on whether he is man or beast, blessing or curse, miracle or demon.

Though Judah is a shocking addition, the town of Paradise Deep is already full of unusual characters. King-me Sellers, self-appointed patriarch, has it in for an inscrutable woman known only as Devine's Widow, with whom he has a decades-old feud. Her granddaughter, Mary Tryphena, is just a child when Judah washes ashore, but finds herself tied to him all her life in ways she never expects. Galore is the story of the saga that develops between these families, full of bitterness and love, spanning two centuries.

With Paradise Deep, award-winning novelist Michael Crummey imagines a realm where the line between the everyday and the otherworldly is impossible to discern. Sprawling and intimate, stark and fantastical, Galore is a novel about the power of stories to shape and sustain us.

A Bit of a Ramble
Typically my summaries are extremely short in order to avoid any possibility of plot spoilage. In this case, however, I do not even know where to begin, and the three paragraph synopsis does not even come close to revealing the epic plot. The story is huge, spanning over 200 years and encompassing multiple (6?) generations. The character list goes on and on; figuring out who was who and who did what to whom and when and why and to what effect certainly kept me engrossed - and mildly frustrated - with the story.

Michael Crummey's epic family saga, Galore, brims over with richness; from the distinct characters to the unusual events to the unique setting, the story is a sharp juxtaposition of harsh frontier and magical realism. While the scope and depth create an epic feel, from time to time, I did find myself wishing things would move along.

At its most basic, this is the story of the Sellers and the Devines, two rival families in a fishing village in Newfoundland. The interpersonal and public relationships between the two families, formed by their respective patriarch and monarch, focus the plot; however, the cast of characters and the plot lines go far beyond these two families.

The story is not chronological. Actually, there were many times while reading I found myself curious as to the when. The only explanation I can give for the out-of-order relating of events, the giant gaps of time, and the weaving back and forth through time, is that you find out what you need to know when you need to know it. This doesn't exactly make reading the novel very comfortable (or easy for that matter) but it certainly does make reading interesting.

My only real complaint is that I felt things a bit too mellow from time to time. Without a central, driving conflict, the action lacked a cause and effect intensity, and I found it easy to put the book aside for long periods of time. When I did pick it up, I could read for hours, but there was no real sense of urgency, no feeling of "what will happen next?" to encourage me to get to the end.

Most of the story deals with reality, everyday, if not exactly universally typical, events and people; however, there is a mystical air flowing throughout - a man emerging from the belly of a whale, witchy women, ghosts, superstition, and curses. The tinge of 'magical realism' colors the story just enough for a bit of the mystical, and this mystical quality really impressed me in its contradiction to the typically barren, always harsh, environment in which the story takes place.

When I think of fantasy, of magic, I think of lush forests and golden-tinged palaces, not a desolate and impotent landscape. The combination created a melancholy, esoteric tone and feel which I reveled in. So despite my occasional wish for a bit more purpose and action, I overall enjoyed the novel, and find it one to be savored if not devoured.

Thank you to Nicole for introducing me to this book!

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  1. This book will forever be the "funk" book, as Nicole put it. Could I ever get past the idea of this guy smelling like hell?

  2. I just got this book, and have been reading intriguing reviews all over the place on it. It does sound like it's a different kind of read, what with all the non-linear progress and the scope of the story being so huge. I am actually really excited about this book because it seems different, which is something that always excites. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it with us.

  3. I do love a good family saga, but there does need to be something to drive the story along. I'll have to think about this one.

  4. This sounds like something of a cross between A Thousand Years of Solitude and Boy's Life. I also keep hearing good things about it and like reading fantasy in usual settings. I'll have to add it to the TBR pile.

  5. I didn't like this book nearly as much as Nicole and Jen and some others. I thought there were interesting characters and stories but I wanted more from both. Your review makes some interesting points especially about the lack of cuse and effect intensity. This wasn't a page-turner by any stretch of the imagination. I'm glad I read it but I won't be reading it again!

  6. The book, in fact, spans a bit more than one century, from the beginning of the 19th to the beginning of the 20th. My recollection is the narrative is largely chronological. This is probably one of the best books I've read this year.


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