Quite unexpectedly, I happened to have my first ever encounter with a Canadian writer Michael Crummey through The Innocents. Set up in Newfoundland’s North coast, The Innocents is basically a mind-blowing historical fiction set up in 1800s. Taking the reader through the lives of two siblings Ada and Everet, a younger sister and an elder brother, the novel revolves around their acquisition of knowledge and survival at a brutally isolated coastal cove.
A historical fiction usually may seem dry to read; however, the story line of this novel is very simple. Without much of an introduction, the story directly takes off with the death of two parents and youngest sibling Martha, forcing 12 and 10 year old Evered and Ada to survive in a completely solitude. They had zero notion of how the world outside is and all they had was a boat and little knowledge on fishing .Till then, they had seen only one other human being Mary Oram,a midwife who came to take care of their mom’s delivery of Martha. After being orphaned and isolated, they did not relocate from there owing to Ada’s sentiments for Martha’s graveyard. They never had any formal education, never knew the concept of money or been to practice Christianity. Moreover, verbal communication among themselves was infrequent. This is quite often reflected in their grammarless English dialect (also the story dates back to eighteenth century). Regardless, upon close to startvation and out of no choice, they decided the show to be going on.They started to engage with the only job they knew to do. Everet ventured out into the little known sea for fishing, while Ada spent her time growing vegetables and picking berries. They processed these and later exchanged with a merchant ship The Hope twice an year for supplies to meet their needs.
The first few chapters of the book appear quite monotonous to the reader where Crummey has taken enough effort to portray the character of Ada and Everet and the coastal landscape. Ada is pictured as clever, curious to join Everet’s activities whereas Everet is hardworking and loyal. Growing together, they both improvise their knowledge on human traits such as jealousy, discomfort, frustration and love. It makes the reader think about the extreme situation where you have only one other person available to learn and explore everything.
The novel takes a powerful turn when both reach their adolescence. By the time, from one of their merchant visitors, they had started to experience the feeling of missing someone and the requisite of getting paired. The Innocents’ innocence in their brother sister relationship started to fade, they were confused and did not know how to handle their developed desires. Regardless, their bond takes a turn developing a will they?/ won’t they? tension in readers navigating through complex relationships and their aftermath.
Altogether, The Innocents is a story of survival, acquisition, mystery and complex relationship. Apparently, one who read the novel The Blue Lagoon, written by Henry De Vere Stacpoole would definitely find The Innocents a close parallel; nevertheless, both might provide different reading experience.
Acknowledgment: Many thanks to Prof. Birss for passing me this book!