Penises in Galore...wherefore art thou?! I totally missed that. Must be my precious state of innocence.
Galore is a big sprawling old lout of a novel. Two generations. Two families. One very punishing setting (Newfoundland). The book kicks it old school in that the environment informs the characters' constitutions - everyone seems to be just as hardy, a bit stunted and by turns generous and cruel as the landscape.
King-me Sellers is the resident well-off (by local standards) resident of Paradise Deep. Devine's Widow is his long standing rival. As the book opens, a beached whale is cut open to reveal a pale, speechless man (named Judah) that somehow has managed to stay alive. Judah's presence adds further instability to a town already buffeted by the rivalry between the two families.
Crummey's novel is dense not only with story but character and I found the first 100 pages a true test of my dedication to my book club (which paid off well, mind you!). Crummey hates to dwell on anything and the book (seamlessly, to its credit) jumps about endlessly between mini-scenes between characters. No breath is wasted on description either so if you were worried that Galore would contain endless meditations on the craggy shores and roiling seas of Newfoundland, there's practically none to be found here.
No, the book is intent on the interweaving lives of its characters and the times they live in - the struggle to make a (subsistence) living from the sea, the fierce and sometimes deadly politics and the battle between the Catholic and Protestant faiths and their often abject failure to provide any relief in the hardscrabble lives of their parishioners.
Father Phelan, one of my favourite morally challenged characters (there are many), is always quick with a turn of phrase such as, "'Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, he quoted drunkenly, do it with they might, for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave.' The priest slapped at Callum's crotch. 'With they might, you useless tit.'"
I was relieved to find Galore both hilariously ribald and poignant, but in a most unsentimental way. For example, concerning a ghost who won't leave his widow's side:
That spectral figure on the margins of their lives seemed as ancient and abiding as the ocean itself, and generations after Gallery was sighted for the last time he occupied a dark corner in the dreams of every soul on the shore.I'm not a huge fan of magical realism but Mr. Gallery's ghost and Judah's appearance in the belly of a whale are the only two elements that qualify as such and they highlight just enough of Newfoundland's raw otherworldliness without making the whole thing hokey.
In sum, Galore may demand your full attention but it's richly rewarding in its multi-layered portrayal of the very best and worst that humans can be. It feels a bit old fashioned at times but hey, they're called classics for a reason.
Galore/ Michael Crummey / Anchor Canada / PB, 2010