Galore (Michael Crummey) is a thought-provoking and mysterious novel set in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the cold and unforgiving landscape of coastal Newfoundland.
The story is both a parable that it based on the folklore of Newfoundland and a story about the hardworking people who inhabit the island. Galore begins with a beached whale on the shores of Paradise Deep. Since the inhabitants live a hardscrabble existence, the stranded whale is viewed as a gift from God and town residents turn out to carve up and use every piece of the whale. When a knife slices through the stomach of the whale, a young man falls out. Completely colorless and white from head to toe, the man is revived and subsequently named Judah (a combination of the biblical figures Jonah and Judas). Since he is mute, Judah is unable and/or unwilling to explain his presence in the whale and he is eventually taken home by Devine’s Widow, the matriarch of one of the central families in the book. Judah lives on the periphery of Devine’s Widow’s family (as he is forced to sleep in the garden shed due to his malodorous fishy stench) and on the outskirts of the town where he is viewed with suspicion and hostility.
King-me Sellers, a chess enthusiast and owner of the town’s only chessboard, is also the main local employer. He’s an ambitious and controlling fellow who maintains his dominion through monopolizing the fishing industry that is the sole source of income for most of the residents in the town. Sellers has not been as successful at controlling his personal life which is revealed when the reader discovers that Sellers’ disinherited daughter is married to the son of his main adversary, Devine’s Widow. The book is primarily their story and how the choices they made have affected their families and the other inhabitants of Paradise Deep for subsequent generations.
There is a biblical quality to the themes of the novel which seems to be mystery, faith and acceptance (although it is open to the interpretation of the reader). For example, Judah’s appearance in Paradise Deep is certainly a mystery; his presence in the lives of Devine’s Widow and King-me Sellers’ families inspire faith (and some skepticism) as he at first appears to bring great luck to the fishing industry, although that eventually founders; and, Judah is seemingly accepted as a member of Devine’s Widow’s family when he marries her daughter and fathers a son, and of the community until he assumes the blame for an incident which ultimately lands him in jail. These themes are also relevant to other subjects and persons in the novel which is one of the reasons that I continue to ruminate over the meaning of the book.
I have read that Galore was written in a style similar to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. If such is the case, I may have found another book to add to the stack on my bedside table!