Galore: Dense Multigenerational Epic Dragged Me In And Held Me Fast

I read Galore (in paperback) for the The Vicious Circle Book Club. I sadly missed the meeting due to the icky virus I have been fighting off, but I hear that there was much discussion about the number of phallic symbols in Galore.

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


Kate said...

I enjoyed this book while reading it, but have found that the story didn't stay with me much beyond the reading. And I totally missed the phallic symbols as well, so it's not just you!

John Mutford said...

Add me to the list of those who missed the penii.

Despite that, I loved this book.

Steph said...

I like this review! I kept thinking I would be swayed from reading it when earlier you mentioned it was a slog and then in this review you said it was a lout of a book, but oddly I'm left even more curious, even more drawn to it. I hope it hasn't sold by the time I get to work tomorrow. I'd like to try it. It sounds rich, humourous, and, well, different. I like different, and I also love magic realism.

Great review: I'm glad you didn't just summarize the novel but also and mostly gave your take on it.

B.Kienapple said...

Stop the presses! Apparently the penii (is that even a word John? tell me it is!) are REAL and not symbols. I remember some hay-rolling but not actual penii so please, no one pay any mind to me, my mind is elsewhere.

Steph-I would definitely give Galore a try. I would say "they don't make books like this anymore" but then I would sound ancient.

Angie said...

I just found your blog today and I wanted to tell you that I like the picture you have up on the header of your blog.

I like to do Mystery Pics on my blog where I'm always hiding behind a book - but I've never tried it with a book cover that has a person's face before. I'll have to try that sometime.

John Mutford said...

While many would refudiate that penii is a real world, opting instead for penises or penes, I'd say we got to celebrate it.

By the way and if you're interested, I interviewed Crummey about Galore last year. Alas, I didn't ask about his penchant for penis.

B.Kienapple said...

Thanks Angie! And you have a book (/TV) blog too-awesome!
John-I will check out the interview. "Penchant for penises." Love it.

Steph said...

Ahahaha! Penes. That's even more hilarious than penii.

B: bought it today! I'm really looking forward to it, too, thanks to you. And it's such a gorgeous book...

Teddy Rose said...

I don't usually like magical realism either but I did really like this book. This was the third Crummey book I have read and I have enjoyed all 3. My favorite so far is River Thieves.

I didn't pick up on the phallic symbols in Galore either but now that you mention it...

B.Kienapple said...

Steph-yes, it has that rough edged paper that I so enjoy! It's gives a tactile experience that I think all books should strive for.

Teddy-I'd never read nor heard of Crummey before (*slaps wrist*) but once I have the time I'd love to read River Thieves. Thanks for the suggestion!


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