For twelve generations, when the fish were plentiful and when they all-but disappeared, the inhabitants of this remote island in Newfoundland have lived and died together. Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, they are facing resettlement, and each has been offered a generous compensation package to leave. But the money is offered with a proviso: everyone has to go; the government won’t be responsible for one crazy coot who chooses to stay alone on an island.
That coot is Moses Sweetland. Motivated in part by a sense of history and belonging, haunted by memories of the short and lonely time he spent away from his home as a younger man, and concerned that his somewhat eccentric great-nephew will wilt on the mainland, Moses refuses to leave. But in the face of determined, sometimes violent, opposition from his family and his friends, Sweetland is eventually swayed to sign on to the government’s plan. Then a tragic accident prompts him to fake his own death and stay on the deserted island. As he manages a desperately diminishing food supply, and battles against the ravages of weather, Sweetland finds himself in the company of the vibrant ghosts of the former islanders, whose porch lights still seem to turn on at night.
NOMINATING LIBRARY COMMENTS
Michael Crummey spins gruff idiom into poetic elegance in this riveting tale of Moses Sweetland, a former lighthouse keeper engaged in a solitary battle to retain his home on a remote island off the coast of Newfoundland. Abandoned by the living and haunted by the dead, Sweetland is reduced to “nothing but skin and grief.” Yet, it is in this state, when he is most alone, that he recovers his deepest connections to life.
Moses Sweetland’s obstinacy about moving with his community off a Newfoundland island that is about to lose its infrastructure and all links to the mainland is as powerful as the Atlantic storms he must navigate his way out of. Crummey’s portrayal of such a difficult displacement of a community is rich and compelling, rendering the relationships and actions of one man with his world into a transcendant, universal experience for the reader.
Sweetland has been acclaimed by critics as Michael Crummey’s finest novel, and was a finalist for the Governor General’s literary Award for Fiction. “Spare lyricism as a poet, breadth of observation as a novelist, [and] deftness with historical fiction and magic realism” (Kitchener-Waterloo Record) inform this tale of myth, magic and life. Crummey excels at creating vibrant characters through engaging and often humorous dialogue. Sweetland is a compelling and touching portrait of both a community and a man. “Grateful prose slowly weaves the reader into the fabric of the community” (Toronto Review of Books). More importantly, the reader is quietly drawn into the mind of the protagonist, through whom the reader experiences the tragedy of this tale.
The writing is beautiful and the metaphors are intriguing and surprising. The places are solid while the characters are dreamlike and float away from one. An island man, living on a small island off an island province, is the lone holdout for the entire outport village to resettle to a larger community in the province. Can he survive his neighbours’ rounds of persuasion? Will he stay or go? If he stays, will he be self-sufficient enough to survive on a small deserted island on his own?