Sep 27, 2015

Book Review–Galore by Michael Crummey


galoreI have friends who are enamoured of this book, I bought it at the Adelaide Writers Festival after hearing Crummey read an excerpt during an interview with Margo Lanagan.

If authors want to sell books, develop some public reading skills and choose your passages wisely.  Crummey reeled me in hook, line and sinker.

He read (in a faint Newfoundland accent if I recall) a selection of pages from near the beginning of the novel; a  dying whale washes up on the shore and the townsfolk set about harvesting it.   Cutting it open they discover the body of a naked man, determined to give him a Christian burial…


Mary Tryphena’s father lifted the corpse by the armpits while James Woundy took the legs and the sorry little funeral train began its slow march up off the landwash. There were three stone steps at the head of the beach, the dead man’s torso folding awkwardly on itself as they negotiated the rise and a foul rainbow sprayed from the bowels. James Woundy jumped away from the mess, dropping the body against the rocks. —Jesus, jesus, jesus, he said, his face gone nearly as white as the corpse. Callum tried to talk him into grabbing hold again but he refused. —If he’s alive enough to shit, James Woundy said, he’s alive enough to walk.


It has taken me about two years to get around to reading it though, plenty of time hopefully to let the praise settle, to let the initial excitement fade.  It’s a prize winning book but I wanted to approach it as cleanly as possible.

So what is Galore?

It’s a story of people and place, the families Devine & Sellers chiefly and the community and locale of Paradise Deep, Newfoundland.

So it has elements of a family saga set in a remote and bleak locale, in a time of changing attitudes and mores.  Not perhaps a book that you want to read if you are searching for an uplifting experience. 

In terms of narrative fulfilment I was left feeling a little unsatisfied at the end of what seemed like a long tale.  The nature of the book, its focus on family members over the period of a couple of generations made it hard to really form strong attachments to characters. That and a lot of the characters were not particularly likeable. They live a bleak and oppressed existence on the edge of starvation for much of the book.

Still that being said, it was an immersive experience, the characters were tangible, the place and tone bleak and depressing in a thoroughly enjoyable way.  I was absorbed.

There are elements of magical realism, ghosts and shades that are interacted which I found no objection to, having come largely from a fantasy/science fiction background, there’s also an echo of biblical allusion – a family member cut from the belly of a whale and called Jonah.

You may note too from the excerpt above that Crummey eschews the use of quotation/speech marks using a dash instead.  It was an interesting choice, but didn’t really cause any issues once I got used to it.

It’s been compared by some to The Shipping News and tonally I’d say they were similar, neither perhaps an advertisement for Newfoundland but they are both very distinct in their representation of people and place.

I enjoyed Crummey’s writing enough that I’d pick up another work of his. 

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Book Review–The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu


I always enjoy Ken Liu’s work, whether it’s translations like The Three Body Problem or his own short work and it’s been interesting from a writers point of view to observe the difference in style between short works, translations and now a longer work in the form of The Grace of Kings.

To get a sense of what Liu presents I’ll quote an answer he gave on The Quillery blog:

The Grace of Kings is a re-imagining of the rise of the Han Dynasty in a new, secondary fantasy archipelago setting. This is a foundational narrative for Chinese literature much as the Iliad and the Odyssey are foundational narratives for the West.

By re-imagining this story as an epic fantasy using tropes and narrative techniques drawn from Chinese and Western epic traditions, I’m trying to create a new, blended aesthetic that transcends the Orientalism and colonial gaze that tends to hobble many “magical China” narratives.

The first book in The Dandelion Dynasty series, The Grace of Kings charts the rising fortunes of two friends Kuni Garu and Mata Zyndu against an epic backdrop of an empire in decline. My knowledge of Ancient Chinese history is limited, perhaps even non-existent; the only points of reference are computer games set in the Warring States period and Wuxia films where the details seem to blur.  That being said there is a similar feel in the focus on heroes as agents of change, and rising and falling fortunes that have far reaching effects.

There has been some comparison made with the epic nature of A Song of Ice and Fire Series by Martin and here is where I feel that there’s a bit of a stylistic difference worth commenting on. 

Martin tells a tale by having a larger number of point of view characters and we get to witness the building of the world through their eyes.  This results in long books and lots of them. 

I think Liu achieves the same effect with a more limited focus on character, for sure there are a number of point of view characters but not as many and the world is sketched in a way that I want to say resembles the best creatively presented history books.

I had to borrow The Grace of Kings from the library and so can’t lay my hands on the text to give you an example. 

What I am trying to articulate, perhaps poorly, is that we are given a story and a comprehensive historical and cultural artefact.  To that end I didn’t find the writing as immersive in a narrative sense as I usually do with Liu’s short work, but I don’t particularly care because the world building balances that out.

There were other points of interest that tickled me intellectually: the inclusion of poetry that was not merely window dressing but that sat nicely in the cultural aesthetic that Liu was presenting, the presentation of interesting roles for women including but not limited to an extremely capable General, and some very light feminist commentary.

I enjoyed the tale and the world presentation.  It has elements that I am sure will tick a number of boxes for people, pitched battles, airships, and legendary heroes.  It’s fresh and I think Liu has managed to hit the targets he was aiming for in the quote above.

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