Let me set the scene for you: two kids live in an extremely isolated cove, their parents die, and they are forced to harvest and catch their own food as a means of survival. That’s it. That’s the book. And in the words of the author-who would want to read about that? I would actually, and I wasn’t disappointed either. The Innocents by Michael Crummey is a surprisingly fast-paced read that makes the most of its limited character and plot devices, highlighting the fact that true writing talent can make just about any situation interesting to a reader.
Ava and Evered have never left the isolated shores of their home, which is the coast of Northern Newfoundland (not exactly a hospitable area to live in the first place!). But when their younger baby sister dies, then both their parents right after that, their youthful innocence is sent to the bottom of the ocean, right along with their father’s body that they dump off the side of their family boat. It may seem unceremonious or cruel, but Ava and Evered aren’t dumb enough to waste their efforts on burying a body they can barely lift. Once they spend a dark winter mourning the loss of their family, they get right back to living, which is catching fish and tending to the garden that will serve to keep them alive. Short of a twice-a-year visit from a supply ship that sells staples in return for their fish, Ava and Evered have only each other for company. Besides their efforts of trying to stay alive, a few unexpected visitors come ashore, and they even venture out to a ship frozen into the ice in the dead of winter; a particularly haunting scene for many reasons.
So you can see there is quite a bit happening to keep the reader’s attention, and I never once felt like the book was meandering or boring. There are threats coming from all sides, and almost everything is a danger in one way or another, so the story is in fact, quite plot-driven. The characters of Ava and Evered are beautifully developed; the same way they slowly discover more of the land around their cove, the reader hesitantly delves deeper into the siblings inner lives, including their desires that will ultimately becoming their undoing. Crummey has created an interesting thought experiment with these two characters; what would it be like as a child, to lose the only adults in your life that you have ever known? Both of them have never met another living soul other than their parents and baby sister, and neither understand how to read or write, so the way they view the world around them, themselves, and the drive to be ‘happy’ is completely different from anything a modern-day reader could relate to. This is just one of the many reasons this is a fascinating book.
I loved how unapologetic the roughness of their lives were, mainly because it made me so thankful for the fact that I was not a physical laborer myself. Evered’s hands are so worn from catching and cleaning the fish each day that he pees on them in the mornings in an effort to clean and sterilize his wounds, “making fists under the burning salve to coax them to life” (p. 68). Most horrifying are the descriptions of childbirth and all that entails when living on an isolated rocky outpost with no modern medical assistance-new mothers will find those scenes especially horrific and cringe-inducing for obvious reasons.
As a Westerner, I was also introduced to some colourful east-coast terms that I can only assume are somewhat historical in nature as well. For example ‘slutlamp’ which is a ‘container for oil with lamp-chimney and a cloth wick’. Dictionary.com doesn’t list this word at all, so if anyone has anymore information on this term or where it came from, I would be greatly appreciative!
Time in this book is marked only by the seasons changing; we can’t be sure when the story actually takes place because the characters are so isolated, but they do discover a shipwrecked telescope, so history buffs should be able to use that little tidbit to place it past a certain year. Evered and Ava have no idea how old they are until they meet the crew of the supply ship, who record the births and deaths of their clients. They never really celebrate any sort of holiday, so the pinpointing of a particular day is next to impossible for them; the mention of any sort of calendar never comes up. Free from so many restraints that cause undue amounts of stress on our internet-generation, Ava and Evered live a simple, almost pastoral existence, one I found myself almost fantasizing about. But Crummey is quick to show us the brutality that they endure on a day-to-day basis, which cut short any rosy ideas I had about ‘the good ol’ days. Regardless of your opinion on progress, The Innocents is an engrossing read that will transport you right out of your comfortable life of screens and indoor plumbing, to a rocky beach that bears silent witness to all of humanity’s challenges and triumphs.
My book club just discussed it last week. It is a profound statement on the nature of man and another great lesson to be learned via the experiences of our Newfoundland brethren.
I think we may discuss this at a book club in the new year Colleen!
LOVE this book. He is my favourite living writer.
It is very good isn’t it? I’m not normally a fan of his writing but I really enjoyed this one
OMG, I THINK YOUR BLOG IS BROKEN. No cover photo, tiny font that is weirdly spaced. CALL WORDPRESS 911 (or whatever the equivalent is in Canada)!
Did you find an e-bug?
apparently my yoast plug-in was updating or something? I think it’s fixed itself now…
Awesome! So glad it wasn’t a major meltdown. I’ve watched some bloggers go through that, and it’s really scary.
yes, phew!!!! I pay for the wordpress ‘business’ package too, which means they have to help me with whatever questions I have, which is extremely helpful
That’s awesome. I’ve never had WordPress issues, so I’m not sure what would happen if there was a major meltdown. I’ve convinced myself that having things on WordPress is permanent. As a sort of back up, I share all the reviews on Goodreads, too.
Hmm yah good call. I think I’ve convinced myself that everything I write on the computer is permanent (lol!)
That’s how I felt about the zip drive I needed for my music major until the entire contents were eaten by my lack of knowledge about “safely ejecting.”
Aha! Now I know why you were asking about slutlamps! 😀 This does sound good, although I too am very glad I live in a time when we can just buy hand-soap from the supermarket! I saw a rview of this elsewhere – I think Karissa’s blog – and it tempted me to look into Crummey. I added River Thieves to my wishlist in the end – have you read that one?
Haven’t read River Thieves! I’m not a huge fan of Crummey though, although lots of people LOVE him in Canada haha
Wow. I really don’t know if I could handle this book! Sounds harrowing. I’m not too great with harrowing, ha ha.
Yes, it can be quite dark at times….but also, really eye-opening in a way, it will make you thankful for our modern conveniences, that’s for sure!
I LOVE this book. It’s one of my favourites of the year, for sure. And you’ve written a great review of it.
It’s interesting to hear you’re not usually a fan, but you like this one. I have loved them all. I found this one to be a quicker read, though, I think… maybe that’s what it is? Or maybe it’s the topic? It’s definitely attention-grabbing.
(I adore the picture with the narwhal!)
haha yah it’s strange, I found this one a real-page turner (despite the subject matter LOL)
I loved this book and agree with your comments, except for your notion that they were “undone”. I don’t think they suffered an “undoing”. They survived as did baby Martha, inspire of all the harsh conditions. I hope Michael writes a sequel.
Thank you for your thoughtful reply, and I hope he writes a sequel too!