A BITTERSWEET TALE OF ISOLATION: Michael Crummey’s Sweetland





by Michael Crummey
Random House of Canada
Available August 19, 2014
320 pages, $32.00



Michael Crummey brings an isolated, austere landscape and its unforgettable inhabitants to life in his latest novel Sweetland.  He paints the harsh life of the East Coast with frank simplicity. Never over-the-top. Always genuine:

“The ferry sailed by the breakwater through a blear of rain. The ocean beyond in an uproar. The deckhands hunched in neon-yellow slickers as they threw down the hawsers and winched the gangplank to the government wharf.”

The community of Sweetland —a remote Newfoundland island— awaits resettlement. Most islanders embrace the opportunity to start a new life in more hospitable towns —except for a couple old men, including stubborn Moses Sweetland. The 69-year-old man’s refusal to accept the government’s monetary offer for relocation is a hindrance to the others. Moses starts receiving threats: anonymous letters tucked in his cupboards and mutilated hares caught in his snares. Still, Sweetland’s stand becomes “more firmly anchored as the holdouts [dwindle], as if to offset the loss in numbers with a blind certainty.”

Concerned about his firm conviction are colourful characters that capture the essence of being Newfoundlanders. We meet Queenie Coffin, an elderly woman who spends her days reading romance novels and smoking by the window sill, never setting foot outside her timeworn home. The lewd Priddle brothers who boast about their escapades on the mainland, their tattooed knuckles marks of their stint in prison. A gentle blind man named Pilgrim who nudges Sweetland to make certain choices. A young autistic boy —Jesse— who accompanies Sweetland on his trapping and fishing excursions, and who warms the old man’s heart. Most colourful of all is Sweetland. Although bullheaded and set in his ways, he’ll win you over with his sense of humour and kindness. These characters form a close-knit, unravelling community. You will feel like you are witnessing their real conversations and interactions while the harrowing story unfolds.

A tragic accident forces Sweetland to cave in and accept the resettlement deal. After most people leave the island for their new homes on the mainland, Sweetland makes a bold decision. His life of welcome solitude becomes one of stark loneliness. He is not only threatened by the forces of nature, but also by the ghosts of his past. We learn the reasons behind his long-standing resistance to leave the island. The end is bittersweet yet perfect, and it will prey on your mind for a long time.

*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.*


7 thoughts on “A BITTERSWEET TALE OF ISOLATION: Michael Crummey’s Sweetland

    • Carole Besharah says:

      Thanks for reblogging my review Chantal! I just read your article “Moving in With Mom” in Today’s Parent. Congrats! A good read, and all too familiar.

      Hmmm… Favorites to recommend? Well… if you ever get your hands on a copy of Voice-Over by Carole Corbeil (Cormorant Books published a new edition in 2013), it’s a great read. It speaks to me as a French-Canadian who lives and speaks in English most of the times. Of course, my teenage self would tell you to check out Jane Eyre and A Prayer For Owen Meany if you haven’t already!

      What are your favorites? I’m always open to suggestions. Cheers.

      • Thank you re: article! I was happy to be able to share that… My favourites? So many… Last year’s only 5 star was Light Between the Oceans. Also loved Rules of Civility… I’m on Goodreads too – though I don’t often post reviews, I do at least put stars!

        Recently I enjoyed The Bear by Claire Cameron. Finished that one in one sitting in the hammock, which I think is inspired given that there was a 5 year old running around at the time! 😉

  1. Carole Besharah says:

    Ahhh… you are the third person to rave about Light Between the Oceans which begs the question: Why is it NOT on my bookshelf?

    The Bear is on many CanLit lists this year. I heard part of her interview on The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers. Sounds good (though heart-breaking). Perhaps you read it in one sitting BECAUSE of the 5-year-old kid running around in the yard. It probably made the narrator THAT much more appealing.

    Is your Goodreads public? Mine is public. Carole Besharah. I’d love to check out your ratings.

    Thanks for giving me the push to read these two books. Cheers!

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