Acclaimed Poet and novelist Michael Crummey won Canada's Commonwealth prize for his latest novel, Galore, which chronicles a century of stories, superstitions, strange afflictions, vengeance, and love among the families of a fictional Newfoundland town, Paradise Deep.
What are you trying to say with the title?
"Galore" is one of the few Irish–Gaelic words that has crossed over into common English usage. A lot of the book is about the back-and-forth between the Irish and West Country English in Newfoundland. And when I was writing this book I felt a sense of abundance. The source material—the folklore of Newfoundland—is so incredibly rich that I wanted to use that word. One thing I liked about "galore" is that "abundance" has only positive connotations, but "galore" can be used in any situation. You could have money galore or fish galore, but you can also have trouble galore or misery galore.
Can your novel be taken as a lament for vanishing traditions and beliefs?
I was surprised, when I was doing the research on the book, how much of this stuff is still present. I didn't have to scratch below the surface very far. Some friends of my parents told me a story while I was working on the book about a guy up the shore who had died and was about to be buried, and sat up in his coffin, at the funeral. And he walked home. And of course, the coffin was made of good wood so he made a daybed out of it. And he slept on that for years, until he died a second time.
Mummers reveal surprising things in your novel—they seem benevolent and frightening. Have you been visited by these masked, costumed merrymakers?
My father died 10 years ago, about a month before Christmas, so nobody was in much of a Christmas mood. But I decided to have a tree decorating party anyway, and had some friends over. It was a fairly quiet evening, and then these three mummers came through the door, and they were lunatics! I had no idea who they were but they changed the whole atmosphere of the evening and I was really grateful to see them. When I finally gave up trying to guess who they were and they revealed themselves, it was my dad's brother, who was a schoolteacher, and one of the most buttoned down people I've ever met. So I was stunned—he was there in this pink dress, and I don't know what it was he had over his face. There is something about the tradition that allows people to escape whatever it is they live with on a normal day. Of course, there are instances of terrible things being done by mummers. As in the novel, people can use the opportunity—drunk, liquored up, and in disguise—to settle old scores, whether political or personal.