Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Reader's Diary #1149- Michael Crummey: River Thieves

There's something to be said about declaring oneself a fan of an author's work and reading said work in order. Exhibit A: My first Mordecai Richler novel was Cocksure. Loved it. Then I read Barney's Version. Instantly became an all-time favourite and now I was declaring myself a Richler fan. But then I went and read some of his earlier work, The Incomparable Atuk, the Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, and they were just... okay. Underwhelming. I could see hints of Barney's Version in those, but it was starting to feel like Barney's Version was Richler's magnum opus. Like he'd spent his whole life trying to write that book and finally got it right. Do I still consider myself a fan? Sure?

Exhibit B: After reading and loving a couple of Michael Crummey's poetry collections, Hard Light and Salvage, I followed them up with a more recent novel Galore, which again, I fell in love with. The story was captivating, the language was beautiful, and the whole thing felt experimental and cool. Here I was again, declaring myself a Crummey fan.

So, I decided to return to an older Crummey novel, River Thieves. Again, it's not bad, but with my expectations so high, I found myself reviewing it more harshly than it probably deserved. It's a fine historical novel, mostly revolving around a man investigating a murder of a couple of Beothuk men in 19th century Newfoundland, but it felt, I don't know, safe. I really don't need to write an entire review as Lawrence Mathews captured how I felt almost exactly. (And rest assured, I hadn't read his review until after I'd finished River Thieves, so my opinion wasn't swayed.)

This is not a judgement on Crummey, by any means. Really, an author should get better as they go along, shouldn't they? If one was to read an early Atwood, for example, and think it's as good as anything she's pumping out today, then perhaps there's a problem.


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