There are two epigraphs at the beginning of this marvelous novel. The first, being from Gabriel García Márquez, suggests we’ll encounter strains of magic realism in the pages ahead. The second, being from Psalms, hints that the book promises a rich language, a unique cadence and an emphasis on story as opposed to character. Both, it turns out, are appropriate.
GALORE is set on “the shore” in far Newfoundland in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The country is wild, the weather terrible, the sea fierce, and the inhabitants seem to have been thrown up on the sand like so much flotsam. The tale begins with a beached whale and a gathering of locals waiting for the creature to die because they can’t figure out how to kill it. This happened “at a time of scarcity when the ocean was barren and gardens went to rot in the relentless rain and each winter threatened to bury them all.” They are eager to harvest the whale’s blubber for food but while they argue over ownership of the poor creature, the whale’s body produces a marvelous fish-smelling surprise that I will leave readers to unwrap for themselves.
The story revolves around two families, the Devines and the Sellers. They cannot abide each other, they do great damage to each other, but they also have occasional need of, and desire for, each other. Over six generations we watch a relentless, sometimes hilarious, ebbing and flowing of their rages, their schemes, their births, desires, disasters and deaths, all informed by grit and resolve. Were there not an abundance of grit the lot of them would have soon disappeared altogether.
The place names alone form a song: Paradise Deep, the Gaze, the Gut, the Breakers, the Tolt, the Rump, Little Garden, Nigger Ralph’s Pond. And the character names ring out like a chant: Devine’s Widow, King-Me Sellers, Selina, Callum, Mary Tryphena, Lazarus, Bride, Obediah Trim and his brother Azariah (a conversation between them near the middle of the book is alone worth the price of admission), Father Phelan (a decidedly earthly priest), Mr. Gallery (who spends much of the book as a ghost), a silent albino known mostly as Judah, Barnaby Shambler (a man of dark deeds and a successful politician), John Croaker (ditto plus), a woman named Virtue, Levi Sellers and his father Absalom. (If “Absalom” suggests Faulkner, that too is appropriate.) You’ll want to mark the family trees at the beginning. You’ll need them for reference.
The stories of these lives are masterly woven and coiled like ship rope but the heart of the tale is language. Language that surges and rolls like the sea; language that I predict will enchant and delight you.