It’s not often that I randomly pick a book off the shelves and immediately fall in love with it. In general, I tend not to read back-cover blurbs: I go straight to the first page and start reading. If the writing grabs me, if the concepts are intriguing, if the style is strong and the narrative voice compelling, I will continue reading. Let’s face it, if all these elements are present on the first page, I’ll buy the book no matter how much it costs, even if it means I have to live on canned chick peas until my next pay day.
When I was in Canada last month, I bought Galore on a bit of a whim. My luggage was already well overweight and I had enough books to tide me over on the hellishly long flight back to Australia. But the cover caught my eye. (And, yes, I certainly do judge a book by its cover. If I wasn’t meant to, all books would be wrapped in brown paper.) And I wanted a book by a Canadian author, I wanted it to be magical without being fantasy or science fiction, and I wanted it to be so engaging that I wouldn’t put it down.
And there were two family trees within the first few pages, which is a clear indicator of a well-planned (and complicated) storyline. And then there was an epigraph by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which immediately spoke to me: “The invincible power that has moved the world is unrequited, not happy, love“ (doesn’t it just make your heart go pit-a-pat?) And when I read the first page, Galore immediately proved it would be everything I wanted, and more.
So I read the blurb, and it sold me. The blurb boasts about the magic in the Newfoundland fishing village in which the story takes place; about the mysterious man who was born from the belly of a whale; about the pseudo-medieval world in which events transpire — but which is, I’d argue, a magical realist setting more than a pseudo-medieval one; about a family saga spanning two centuries and involving more characters (fully rounded, loveable, hateable, wonderful characters) than you could shake out of most novels on a good day.
Unlike most blurbs, which basically tell you the whole story from beginning to end in brief, this one barely scraped the surface of the depth and complexity of this narrative. It offers a completely accurate description, and yet it doesn’t even come close to what takes place in the book. The brilliant, succinct writing (the complete opposite of the gushing, flowery prose in this post). The unforgettable characters. The way these characters’ successes and mistakes, their loves and their losses, their flaws and their beauties (and often their flaws are exactly what makes them beautiful) — the way all of this is tied up with the history of a place. The way this history is spiral in form; bending back on itself, repeating, moving away just to reappear somewhere down the line.
Bear in mind that I have an excessive love of family sagas replete with major and minor characters. Hell, I’ve spent the past five years looking at forty of the Icelanders’ versions of exactly what I’m describing above. And Galore is quite like the Icelandic sagas in many ways: both have harsh environments, both have idiosyncratic characters who are as tough as the land upon which they live. Both are bursting with magic. And the magic in Galore is inextricably tied up with the setting — with Newfoundland.
This is, ultimately, a story about a specific place over a specific period of time. The characters reflect the changes, social and environmental, that affect this place. The way it moves from a place where folk tales are real, where there is no need for nostalgia because life in the present is so wondrous; to a place where technology, commercial advances, and time has bleached the colour from these people’s cheeks and left them perpetually looking forward, forgetting to look back.
It’s up to us, as readers, to look back for them. And we do: we can’t help it. We feel loss on their behalf. We feel the pain of unrequited love — even if it is for a rugged Canadian coastline — and its pangs are delicious.
Buy Galore here, or ask your local library to order a copy in for you.
(I warned you that this was going to be a marriage proposal of a review. You may have to bear that in mind if sagas aren’t your bag.)