I was drawn to THE INNOCENTS by its beautiful cover, then was glued to the pages by the book’s stunning setting, its quaint language and poetic prose, and the breathtaking purity of its characters who are innocent, indeed.
Those characters are a brother and sister who are orphaned in an isolated cove on the Newfoundland frontier after their parents and baby sister fall ill and die. The children are roughly 9 and 11, the year 1800-something. Year and age are as hard to come by as physical warmth, cod for food, and help from the outside world in this unusual piece of historical fiction.
What to do? How to survive? Ava and Evered carry on as their parents had taught them to do, though their lives are primitive and raw. With only each other to lean on, they survive in the most inhospitable of circumstances. Individuals come and go in their lives; a supply ship visits twice a year but grants them only the stores they can pay for with the fish they’ve caught and cured. They are alone as they grow into teenagers, their bodies aching for things about which they know nothing.
Sound bleak? Michael Crummey, a native of Newfoundland himself, is such a masterful wordsmith that he turns bleakness into exquisite exploration. Moreover, he creates two children about whom we come to care deeply.
THE INNOCENTS is a change of pace from my usual reading. I was haunted reading it. I am haunted still.