Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Galore by Michael Crummey — 352 pages

GaloreIn the small Newfoundland island town of Paradise Deep a strange occurrence has turned the town upside down. It seems a huge whale has beached itself on the shore, and due to the fishing town’s recent hardships, the residents soon begin to divvy up the carcass for food and fuel. But when the widow Devine begins to cut through the animals stomach, she and the other onlookers are surprised to see a man tumble out. He’s a strange man indeed, with his white hair and skin, and he seems to be mute as well. He also stinks of dead fish, and it’s a smell destined to never go away. So begins the magical and dense saga of a town that’s unlike any you’ll ever experience. Love and hate, passions and feuds, birth and death, they’re all encompassed in this winding and rich tale of a town lost in the middle of the ocean, a town that society forgot. As Crummey follows the handful of families on the island over a span of a hundred years or more, we share in their heartbreaks and sorrows, their triumphs and defeats. In this magnificent and unusual tale, the magic of Paradise Deep and its inhabitants is cleverly meted out with an eye for the fantastical, wonderful and strange.

This was a hard book to summarize; not because it was confusing but because there was just so much going on that it would have been impossible to even hint at all the plot permutations and narrative twists. I found that although I tried to sit down and read this one straight through, it was almost impossible to do so because of the book’s density and the abundance of genealogical information. This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the book, because I did. I thought there was a great use of magical realism that didn’t end up stretching into absurdity and that all the various components of the town’s saga were captivating and engaging. Though it took me awhile to rip through this one, I was very pleased with both the journey and the destination.

Part of what I loved about this book was Crummey’s ability to be playful and at times crass. It was obvious that although there was a lot of gravity in this story, the author didn’t take himself or his characters too seriously; in turn, I was rewarded with a great sense of the joviality of Paradise Deep’s residents. There were some heartbreaking moments as well, and the balance between gravity and humor was one that was well played within this tale. The more I read, the deeper I fell into the spell of the story and the more intimately I began to understand the characters and their motivations. There was a great give and take here, a seesawing between the details of the town’s growth and the characters’ interplay with one another that was mingled with just a touch of the magical realism that I so enjoy.

I think it’s a feat to manage such a sprawling novel the way that Crummey did. The book wasn’t astronomically large, but seemed to encompass so much time in a succinct and elegant way. From the moment the strange man is disgorged from the whale’s belly, Crummey is off and running with his history of Paradise Deep and his eccentric cast of characters, who are always doing something surprising and counter-intuitive. I also really enjoyed Crummey’s character creation because it was extremely layered for a book of this scope and size. Most of the characters were given a lot of development and substance, which is impressive considering that there were probably over two dozen characters in play. But what’s also impressive is that Galore didn’t feel overpopulated at all. While there were times when I had to check the family tree in the front of the book, each character managed to be singular and richly defined.

When I finally got to the last page, I fully realized the magic that Crummey had managed with this book. His story went from engaging and intriguing to ephemeral and awe-inspiring. It was an ending that I had started to guess at, but the implications it created made me rethink the whole story. And when I started to look back, I saw that those missing puzzle pieces had been there all along, just waiting for a savvy reader to pick them up and fit them all together. I can’t say I knew this all along though, and had to wait for that final page for the wheels to begin churning in my brain. In some ways, this book reminded me of A Hundred Years of Solitude, with its scope and intention feeling very similar. It also reminded me that when magical realism is done right, it can be just…well, magical.

I’m going to have to jump on the bandwagon and join the other reviewers who thought this book was brilliant. It wasn’t what I had been expecting, and although I had read several reviews, the book was constantly surprising to me. Though I went into things with high expectations, Galore really delivered and inspired me to check out more of Crummey’s work. It was definitely a dense and chewy book, but one that I think a lot of readers would enjoy. I know it was an unexpected treat for me. This is a book I would definitely recommend.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

22 comments:

Amy said...

I don't recall actually reading a review of this one yet, I think I've mostly skimmed them. Sounds like a really fantastic story!

Geosi said...

Thanks for your recommendation. i would have to definitely check out this. Your thoughts are always refreshing.

Audra said...

This sounds SO good -- I'm pretty sure I have an ebook of this at home -- I need to bump it up higher on my TBR now.

Cassandra said...

This was an amazing book. The best book of the year in my opinion, and one of my all-time favorites. It's such an amazing story. I'm glad that you liked it, too.

bermudaonion said...

I haven't seen much about this book but I think the storyline sounds so unique. I'm glad to see it's done so well!

Wendy said...

Yay! So glad you agree with me on this one :) I absolutely loved this book ... and I think the characterization was some of the best I've ever read. Crummey reminds me a bit of David Mitchell with regard to how he develops character and story :)

Darlene said...

Oooooh - I've wondered about this book more than a few times when I've seen it in Amazon. After reading your thoughts I think I may end up picking up the eBook. It really does sound wonderful. Great review Heather!

nomadreader said...

For some reason I haven't taken the time to pick this one up, but you just sold me. I'll make time to read it when I have plenty of time to concentrate on it.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Wow, I am totally requesting this from the library!

Jenny said...

It's fun when the ending makes you reconsider everything, isn't it? That's why I love reading the end! Because then I get to see all the clever little things as they happen, rather than trying to remember them later once the puzzle's all the way filled in.

Jenny said...

This is not one I'd ever normally pick up but I read another great review and with your review I feel absolutely convinced I should read this when I'm in the mood for a magical eccentric read. Although the density of it scares me a little!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I bought the Kindle edition recently, so I was thrilled to read that you thought this was brilliant - high praise indeed.

Steph said...

I have an old galley copy of this that I snagged for Tony from BookPage, but he's been a bad reader lately so he never finished this one. But I really want to read it because it sounds really remarkable and like something really special. And now because of your review, I know I need to bump it up the queue a few spots for sure!

Aths said...

Now I'm really eager to read this. The synopsis initially turned me off, but I'm glad to see that the book was very engaging and that the reader is constantly being surprised. I love such books. Thanks for this deep review!

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

Ah, I've had my eye on this for a while (mostly, admittedly, because of the super cover...woops!) but I haven't gotten around to it. Thanks for this lovely review, as always!

TheBookGirl said...

Wow, what a great review of a book that was surely hard to pigeonhole. The few previous reviews I've read of this one seemed to feel that the book was too hard to fathom. You make it sound fascinating. I'm curious how long it took you to get through it; was it the kind of book that you read in between others?

Zibilee said...

BookGirl,
It took me about 4 days to meander through this one, which is unusual given that it's only about 350 pages long. I didn't read it between other books, because that's just something that I don't normally do. Though it was a hefty read, I was engaged the entire time, so it never became tiresome for me.

Jenners said...

I'd not heard of this one but now I'm really curious. I love when a book falls together in the end and you realize you knew it all along but didn't quite put it together. That is always a plus. In addition, the whole finding of a man in a whale is really neat!

Liz @ Cleverly Inked said...

This seems as it would give me a head ache. For people who have a hard time paying attention and staying track would you say to read or not?

Amy said...

I really enjoyed your review...more than I enjoyed the book, actually. But I am one of the very few who's not a big fan of this book. I think had I participated in a readalong with you and some others, reading Galore would have been a different experience for me.

There is a lot going on in the book. I think you wrote a fabulous review and did get stuck trying to talk about all the characters and details. Although I didn't love Galore, I do think Crummey is a terrific writer and I plan to read his next book!

Zibilee said...

Liz,
I am not sure. The book does require a certain amount of concentration and keeping everything in order, so I don't think it would be considered a breezy read, but if you do tackle it, I bet you would love it!

Jules said...

I haven't read this one yet, and I never realized it had an element of magical realism in it. I think I may added to my TBR list, there's room in there some where. Good review!

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