In centuries past, a brother and sister are orphaned in an isolated outport cove on Newfoundland’s northern coastline. Their home is a stretch of rocky shore governed by the feral ocean and a relentless pendulum of abundance and murderous scarcity. Still children with only the barest notion of the outside world, they have nothing but their family’s boat and the little knowledge passed on haphazardly by their mother and father to help them survive.
Muddling through the severe round of the seasons, through years of meagre catches and storms and ravaging illness, it is their fierce loyalty to each other that motivates and sustains them. But as seasons pass and they wade deeper into the mystery of their own natures, even that loyalty will be tested.
Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The Innocents by Michael Crummey. I was immediately intrigued by the blurb for this novel, my attention grabbed by the idea of two children left to fend for themselves in the harshest of conditions, particularly as it’s a tale inspired by a story the author discovered when perusing local archives.
Siblings Evered and Ada live in a remote spot on the Newfoundland coast. They are twelve and ten respectively when their parents die, leaving them alone with no one to rely on but each other. Neither has been educated in the usual sense of the word, yet they both have the basic skills they need to survive, fishing and foraging both to feed themselves and to enable them to trade for other supplies with The Hope – a ship that sails past their cove twice a year. They are on a steep learning curve, and they have no choice but to adapt quickly in order to survive, falling into the roles and behaviour of their parents almost subconsciously. Their life is one of extreme hardship, and I was immediately invested in their tale – the author makes you care about these two characters and everything they face. The odds are against them, but I wanted them to succeed and survive.
Throughout the novel, they have little contact with anyone but each other, and each knows that they can rely upon the other. They do fall out at times – and their occasionally petty behaviour towards each other in those moments does serve to lighten the tone a little – but for the most part they are a team and they know instinctively that they need each other to survive with any frustrations being quickly forgotten if not necessarily forgiven. Their life and the hardship they face is relentless, and this is brilliantly portrayed throughout the novel as they face one challenge after another. The beauty and brutality of nature is highlighted, with the desolate coastline and extreme conditions working against them and emphasising the perilous nature of their situation. The Innocents is a bleak read – and you know I mean that as a compliment – as Evered and Ada fight to survive. There is no respite, no luxury, no time to relax – every waking minute is required to ensure their survival, the two often working to the point of exhaustion and beyond. I had to constantly remind myself how young they were while reading – their circumstances force a maturity on them beyond their years as they eke out an existence in a harsh environment.
The years pass, and Evered and Ada begin to develop – physically and emotionally – experiencing the usual changes that puberty brings about. These changes bring a new element to their relationship as they try to adapt to the ways their bodies are changing and the new feelings they begin to experience with no one to guide them through that period of development. This does lead to some awkward moments as they begin to explore and experiment, and their feelings move beyond the familial and towards something more intimate, although those scenes are handled sensitively and are few and far between. And it’s difficult to judge them for that behaviour – they don’t understand what is happening to them or the potential consequences – they are innocent in that regard, and the situation comes across as tragic rather than appalling, particularly as they do seem to understand on some level that their behaviour is inappropriate.
The Innocents is a wonderful story about survival against the odds, and of the bond between siblings who have no one to rely upon but each other. It’s a beautifully written novel in which the language evokes a sense of both time and place, and the narrative is gripping as these two children struggle on bravely, enduring hardship and hunger and eking out an existence despite their circumstances. Recommended.
The Innocents will be published by No Exit Press on 20 August. Many thanks to the publisher and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the early review copy and the opportunity to take part in the blog tour.
About the Author
Michael Crummey was born in Buchans, a mining town in the interior of Newfoundland, growing up there and in western Labrador. After thirteen years in self-imposed exile in Ontario, he moved home to Newfoundland in 2000. He is the author of five books of poetry, a book of short stories, and four other celebrated novels, including the Giller prize-nominated River Thieves. He lives in St. John’s.
Make sure you check out the other fantastic bloggers involved in the tour:
Want to know more? Join critically acclaimed authors Emma Donoghue and Michael Crummey as they discuss their brilliant new novels with award-winning author and journalist Erica Wagner on 27 August at 8.15pm. Register for free here.