The innocents

by Michael Crummey

Hardcover, 2019





New York : Doubleday, [2019]


"A novel about an orphaned brother and sister who must fend for themselves on a remote fishing outpost in the late 1800s"--

User reviews

LibraryThing member Cariola
Evered Best and his sister Ada are living a hard life on the Newfoundland coast. Their baby sister Martha died of an unknown illness, and their mother and father soon followed her to the grave. Well, no the grave as it is the middle of winter and the ground is frozen, so both were buried at sea. The children figure they have enough supplies on hand to make it until spring when a ship called the Hope will arrive. Evered doesn't know exactly how it all works, but he knows that every spring his father rowed out to the Hope with the dried and salted fish he has processed in the past year, met with a man called the Beadle, and brought back enough supplies for the coming year. He and Ada are determined to keep the family business going and keep the property on which they live. When the Hope arrives, the Beadle rejects half of their fish as unusable and, as a result, gives them only half of the usual supplies. Brother and sister believe that they can stretch it out to survive the coming year and set about to improve the business.

Crummy's novel covers several years as Evered and Ada grow from pre-teens to teenagers. Much of the book focuses on descriptions of their hard life and the beautiful but unforgiving landscape. When the rare visitors (the Beadle, a minister and his "housekeeper," a small company of sailors) appear, they are both a welcome diversion from and a threat to their solitary but peaceful lives. The greatest threat, however, is their developing sexuality, for which there is no acceptable outlet. On occasion, Evered considers it might be best for Ada, at least, to move to the nearest settlement and find a husband. Instead, the inevitable happens.

I've enjoyed several of Crummy's other novels, all of which I liked better than this one. Still, no one is better at creating atmosphere, especially that surrounding early settlers in rugged Newfoundland, his preferred setting. This is a hard read and not one for the squeamish.
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LibraryThing member VivienneR
As much an allegory as novel, Crummey's book is about two children left orphaned in remote Newfoundland in the early 1800s. Ada and Evered (Adam and Eve?) are left alone to fend for themselves when they are too young and inexperienced to know anything of life beyond their limited dwelling place. They barely survive. The atmospheric story captured my attention on the first page and did not let me go until the end. Highly recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member ahef1963
In Newfoundland writer Michael Crummey's book The Innocents, two children, sister and brother, are orphaned at a remote cove on the shores of Labrador. The pair survive the winter and learn, slowly, with mistakes aplenty, to feed themselves, to trade with the vessel that comes down the coast twice annually. With the help of the odd visitor to their outpost they learn to hunt, which in the end is what saves them from the daily worry about food. Their years of privation end, while other troubles between them brew.

This is a well-written book, chock-a-block with Newfoundland English (luckily I could access the Dictionary of Newfoundland Usage online), descriptive, well-researched. The story, however, was a hard one for me to read. I cringed at the desperation of the two lonely children, winced at threats to their well-being, was horrified when incest jutted its ugly head into the story. There were vivid passages about gutting and skinning animals, and I simply don't have the stomach for reading that.

A good book, but not one I'd recommend, then, because of how it made me feel. I like fiction to leave me feeling either content or interested or wanting to find out more of the story; sadly this book gave me none of that. It did, however, give me the pleasure of reading fine passages by a gifted writer, and I will try Michael Crummey's works again, but something less bloody and off-putting.
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LibraryThing member LynnB
In the 1800s, 11-year-old Evered and his 9-year-old sister, Ada, find themselves alone on an isolated island in what is now Newfoundland. Their parents and infant sister have died. Ada and Evered have no knowledge of the outside world; they can't read and have limited contact with other people -- a twice-yearly visit from a supply ship and the very occasional arrival of other visitors. They do know how to carry on the fishing and gardening their parents did and manage to eke out a life. As they age, however, their changing bodies make them aware of other needs and desires. This is a parallel to the story of the Garden of Eden. Very well written and well told.

A minor complaint -- it took me a long while to figure out how old the kids were, what time period we were in. I'd have liked a little more information along those lines.
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LibraryThing member gypsysmom
This book is on the shortlist for the 2019 Giller Prize. I don't know how it stacks up against the other nominees because I have only read one (Lampedusa) but I thought it was an excellent example of the hard life faced by people before we had all the modern conveniences. I can, however, see some people objecting to the sexual content although I thought it explored the topic of sexual urges between siblimgs comprehensively without drawing any moral judgements.

Ada and Evered Best were left orphans when an illness killed first their infant sister, Martha, then their mother and finally their father. The family were the only occupants of an isolated cove on the northern coastline of Newfoundland and it was winter. So Ada and Evered were left to fend for themselves at the ages of 9 and 12. The family had fished the waters around the cove for cod and other fish which they cleaned, salted and dried for trade. They also had a small vegetable plot to grow root vegetables and there was a large clearing nearby where berries were abundant. A ship (The Hope) visited them twice a year, once in the spring when the ice had cleared to bring groceries and dry goods and once in the fall to pick up the fish harvest and leave more supplies to see them through the winter. When The Hope visited the spring after the parents died the two children said they wanted to continue the family's trade. That first summer they had trouble drying the fish and barely made enough to convince the ship's master to leave them provisions for the winter. Ada and Evered persevered and were able to have some success. Meanwhile their bodies were becoming awakened to their sexuality and, as they shared a bed in the cold weather, sexual experimentation commenced. The children were virtually uneducated although their mother had told them some Bible stories and she had also, when she knew she was going to die, passed on information about menstruation to Ada. Other than those rudiments they had to figure things out for themselves and they sometimes learned their mistakes the hard way. Ada was clever though and she often was able to advise Evered about matters that he couldn't puzzle out himself. It seemed they would continue to follow the path their parents had but their solitude was threatened by visitors from whom they learned about the greater world.

It's hard not to see this as a repetition of the story of Adam and Eve. Even the names (Ada and Evered) reiterate that ancient story of an idyllic life destroyed when they eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. However, if you are the type of reader who does not want to be seeking hidden meanings there is enough detail of life in the outports of Newfoundland to keep you satisfied too.
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LibraryThing member Romonko
Sweetland by Michael Crummey is one of my favourite books ever. I was excited to read this, his newest, as soon as I heard about it, and the book is also on the Giller Prize shortest this year. This book has some similarities to Sweetland. It is about a remote island off the coast of Newfoundland. It is about survival against the cruelest elements, and it is about the stark beauty of Newfoundland. But in this book we have two children left alone when sickness comes to their island one winter and takes their baby sister, their mother and finally their father. Everard is 12 and Ada is 10 when they are left alone to face the cruelty of a Newfoundland winter. The only outside contact that these children have ever had is the twice yearly arrival of a supply boat. That boat won't be there until late spring so they are left to fend for themselves until then. They manage to do that on very meagre rations, and because they have each other. With the family's boat and the bits and pieces they learned from their parents, these two children manage to survive the cruelest conditions imaginable. With many missteps along the way, and with a visceral urge to survive, they manage to eke out a meagre living on their own. They do experience a few unexpected visitors, and this is where Crummey shines. His description of these few visitors and the lasting effect that they have on Everard and Ada add some hope and colour to their lives. Michael Crummey is a true Canadian treasure, and I love his books. This one belongs on the prestigious Giller Prize shortlist. I hope it wins.… (more)
LibraryThing member fiverivers
Having read Sweetland, I had to find more of Michael Crummey's work, and delved almost immediately into The Innocents. Crummey's ability as a premiere writer remains inviolate in this devastating, brutally honest, historical tale of an orphaned brother and sister who eke out an existence as indentured fishers on one of Newfoundland's inhospitable islands.

There are so many resonances with so much of classic literature in this tale, and yet Crummey makes this story completely his own. He deals deftly with the concepts of morality and innocence, of brutality and necessity, all done so deftly the themes weave through the story like the air we breathe. I was minded over and over again of an almost Hardian disposition to Crummey's work, in that the land and environment were equal characters, taking on a silent and ominous presence throughout the narrative.

And I was also minded of the Christian mythos surrounding the Garden of Eden and the notion of innocence.

This is not only very great literature, but somehow also very great escapist reading. You will find yourself drawn in, unable to stop thinking about this place, these characters, this tale. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member hubblegal
A young brother and sister, Evered and Ada Best, are only 11 and 12 years old when they are left as orphans when a devastating illness takes their parents and baby sister. Their dilemma is made worse by the fact that they live in an isolated cove in Newfoundland. Their contact with and knowledge of the outside world has been minimal. Their parents were taken ill so quickly that they were unable to prepare their children to survive in this desolate place. They know that a ship named “The Hope” comes once a year and that their father took his boat out to the ship with his yearly fish catch and returned with supplies. Now the young boy is in the position of providing for himself and his sister with little knowledge of how to do that. They soon learn how in debt to the owner of “The Hope” they are.

This is much more than a book about survival. It’s a deep look at family and loyalty. I’ve seen comparisons to Charles Dickens’ work and this story. The imperiled, hungry children, the colorful characters they come into contact with and the brilliant writing make it easy to see why. This author is a poet and the language he uses is just lovely. He adds quite a few quaint Newfoundland phrases that I wasn’t familiar with but enjoyed. It’s truly heart wrenching to read of the ebb and flow of the relationship between this brother and sister over the years and the battles they faced, not only with the world around them but with each other. I will now be on the lookout for other books from this excellent author.

Most highly recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.
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LibraryThing member BonnieLymer
This is a novel about two orphaned children growing up alone in a remote location in 19th century Newfoundland. The book had its moments and is well written, but I was not happy with the ending. I felt the story resolution was somewhat weak.
LibraryThing member RandyMetcalfe
Evered and Ada are still children when first their younger sister, Martha, dies, followed within months by their mother and father. They are alone on the north shore of Newfoundland with no one to provide aid or even acknowledge their plight until the biannual arrival of the schooner, The Hope, which brings, or at least brought, their father supplies and carried off their catch of dried cod. But would they be allowed to carry on at the trade in the absence of their parents? When The Hope arrives, Evered makes his case to Mr Clinch that he and his sister can make a go of it. Mr Clinch is doubtful but convinced of Evered’s earnestness. He accedes to Evered’s wishes, leaving supplies with them on credit until the next visit of The Hope. And so Evered and Ada are set upon their lonesome life path.

Michael Crummey’s tale of Evered and Ada is both intimate and sentimental. They are, after all, complete innocents, with almost no knowledge of the world and only a bare knowledge of the tasks they will need to undertake to manage this remote cod fishery. Crummey’s diction is sprinkled with terms and phrases that mark the period (late 18th or early 19th century— it’s not entirely clear). This both particularizes their story as well as distances the reader from it. For example, the meaning of a fair few words was not immediately discernible and therefore needed to be merely glossed over. But only now and then did that strike me as a unfortunate.

The narrative proceeds in linear fashion alternating between Evered’s and Ada’s points of view. Over the following ten years they grow together and apart, learning their trade but also yearning for more. They suffer harms both natural and self-inflicted. But eventually it is their innocence itself that seems to harm them, given their bafflement at the urgings of their bodies and the consequences that result. There are a string of striking events over the years but never a great deal of hope, I think, for a reader that they might prevail. And so the impending transition that the end of the novel suggests seems both contrived as well as inevitable.

As ever, Crummey’s writing is immensely readable and that makes recommending this book an easy choice.
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LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
Evered and Ada live with their parents on an bleak and isolated Newfoundland cove. The family scrapes out a living fishing and subsistence farming. Then, their infant sister and their mother die, and soon after their father dies, leaving them, about ages 12 and 10, to survive on their own. We follow them over several years as they fish, salt the fish and sell them to a supply ship that appears twice a year, their only human contact with the outside world. Later they begin to do a bit of fur trapping as well. Life is rough and hard, but they seem to be making it work, if barely.

This was a well-written story of self-sufficiency and surviving in the elements in the wilderness in the not so distant past. Nature is a huge part of this story. Even though this was not a "thriller", it was a page-turner for me. I couldn't wait to find out what happened to these kids.

*********************POSSIBLE SPOILER BELOW*************************************

The bad Amazon reviews seemed primarily related to the hints of incest as the children grew older. This may bother some people.

*************************END SPOILER******************************************


4 stars
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LibraryThing member mdoris
What a fabulous book this was. I loved it and my brain is still in the story. I love any books about Newfoundland and this book is no exception. Crummey is a master story teller and has the expertise of language to match. The story takes place over 200 years ago (based on the sailing ships and the consumption of rum) in an isolated cove in north eastern Newfoundland. Young children become orphans and must fend for themselves in the self sufficient environment and never ending difficult chores of daily life with only the supply ships for limited company once or twice a year. It is such a harsh and isolated environment (but beautiful). Doing some historical digging Crummey found this circumstance referred to in a priest's notes from many years ago. Crummey does an amazing job bring the story to life. Crummey used the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue and The Dictionary of Newfoundland English.… (more)
LibraryThing member thornton37814
Evered and Ada, orphaned when their mother and father die within a couple weeks of one another, find themselves surviving the harsh northern Newfoundland winters. Evered assumes his father's job working as a fisherman for a man who supplies them with the other staples needed. Their only contact with the outside world generally comes when the supply ship comes twice a year. This is an incredible story, and Crummey tells it in a manner the evokes the time and place.… (more)
LibraryThing member icolford
The Innocents is set on Newfoundland’s harsh northern coastline, 100 or more years in the past. The Best family are struggling to establish a homestead in an isolated cove where father Sennet fishes and salts cod and mother Sarah maintains a vegetable patch, cooks and raises the children: Evered, Ada and baby Martha. Then, in short order one winter, Martha, Sarah and Sennet are all dead from an illness. Evered and Ada, both very young, carry on living in the manner of their parents because they have no choice: it’s the only life they know. At the point of being orphaned, the two have had almost no contact with the outside world and, other than Mary Oram, the woman their father fetched from a village called Mockbeggar to deliver the baby, have had no dealings with humans apart from their immediate family. They have never been to school, they know nothing of the Bible or religion, are unable to read, and are ignorant of geography, history and science. They have no concept of money or debt. But they have absorbed some of their parents’ knowledge regarding the mechanisms of the world outside their door, and as young as they are, recognize that they must perform the tasks that their parents performed, or else perish. The genius of The Innocents is that, though it references a vividly rendered and tangibly authentic historical context, the atmosphere is post-apocalyptic (though the two books are vastly different, Crummey’s novel is loosely reminiscent of Into the Forest by Jean Hegland). For Ada and Evered, every new experience is terrifying and carries the threat of the unknown. But every new experience also teaches them something that will help them survive. As the seasons pass and the two enter their teens, their horizons expand and they become proficient in the art of taming and exploiting the unforgiving wilderness that sustains them but at any given moment could deal a lethal blow. But further challenges await, the most momentous being their own maturing bodies. Absorbing and suspenseful, Michael Crummey’s novel chronicles the gradual awakening of Evered and Ada Best to the beauty and horror of the natural world, their growing awareness of the light and dark of their own human nature and the good and evil they carry within them.… (more)
LibraryThing member ParadisePorch
Based on a true incident recorded in an early 20th-century priest's log, The Innocents tells the tale of a brother and sister who are orphaned in an isolated cove on Newfoundland's northern coastline and who have a child. The circumstances are not as twisted as they sound: one, innocent experience conceives the baby.

At my reckoning, Evered was perhaps 12 and Ada perhaps 9 when this story begins. When their father dies, they go on doing the only thing they know: fishing for a living. When the merchant's ship comes each year, they trade for staples.

As usual, Crummy makes us understand what an amazingly difficult life this was, and he does so in lyrical language that betrays his gift as a poet.
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
Ava was ten, her brother twelve, when her less than a year old baby sister died. Their mother and father took sick and soon followed. The family has lived an isolated life in a secluded New Toy Diane cove, their access to people restricted to the elderly woman who came to help her mother during the birthing. Now they were truly alone. Alone but not helpless having helped their parents in their daily lives. Fishing for for, trading with a ship that came once a year, the bartered for the supplies they needed to see them through the winter. Life was far from easy but they fou d joy in small things, small treasures found on the shoreline, berry picking. A few others would make their way to the cove, introducing them to some examples of the world outside their cove.

A quiet novel, with a slow pace, but one that gives the reader beautiful descriptions of cove, and nature. It did go to a place that made me a little uncomfortable, but the story and their life, p!us the title, reminded me that these tow knew little, were innocent in some ways, and had no one else. A story that I not only read, but felt inside, hope these two would prosper, find a life that in the future would fit. There is just something about these quiet, but meaningful novels that for ne, never fail to appeal. I loved these characters, struggled with them and wished they had found a different way. They did though, the best with what they knew, and what they had. How could that be looked down on?

"She went through the other contents of her shelf, culling the shells and rocks and feathers that had lost their lustre, objects that had once possessed a hint of magic or beauty or mystery and now seemed merely ordinary. It was confounding to see magic and beauty and mystery Leach out of a thing, to think it could be used up like a store of winter supplies."

"Pleasure and shame. Shame and pleasure. These were the world's currencies. And itbpaid out both in equal measure."

ARC from Edelweiss.
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