Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Galore reads like a chunk of the Old Testament set in a Newfoundland outport, where pagan and Christian beliefs exist side-by-side, and the characters are as odd a bunch as you'll find in fiction.

There's a witch, a ghost, a rogue priest, a man swallowed by a whale, a woman with webbed fingers, a mummer named Horse Chops, a horribly scalded boy, a nasty merchant who gets his ears sliced off, a 16-year-old girl who wants all her teeth pulled out, and identical triplets who impersonate each other so often they forget who they are.

When an American doctor named Newman shows up at the beginning of Part 2, his arrival signals the outport's gradual entry into the modern world. Some of the doctor's impressions:

They described the deathly ill as wonderful sick. Anything brittle or fragile or tender was nish, anything out of plumb or uneven was asquish. They called the Adam's apple a kinkorn, referred to the Devil as Horn Man.

They'd once shown the doctor a scarred vellum copy of the Bible that Jabez Trim had cut from a cod's stomach nearly a century past, a relic so singular and strange that Newman asked to see it whenever he visited, leafing through the pages with a kind of secular awe.

He felt at times he'd been transported to a medieval world that was still half fairy tale.

In managing such a large cast of characters, the author skims over them quickly, giving us just enough information to keep the story moving along. There is no linear plot as such, just the constant ebb and flow of life and death over several generations, and the slow movement away from a life of hardship and superstition, and the interactions of two warring families whose names, the Sellers and the Devines, provide a clue as to their roles.

The book is filled with wonderful dialogue, thronged with humour and character and incident, and topped off with a satisfying conclusion that gives the story a fine symmetry.

This is a rich novel that people will read more than once.


Judah, the man swallowed by a whale, reminded me of Jerome, a man found legless on the Fundy shore in the 19th century. Who he was, where he came from, and how he got there were never discovered. He spent the rest of his life in Nova Scotia without uttering a word. Was he mute like Judah, or did he simply refuse to speak? How he lost his legs, and even his real name (like Judah's), remain a mystery to this day.

John Mutford's interview with Michael Crummey