Reading more Canadian literature has been my reading goal this year and enjoying Canadian prose has reinforced that Canada has a wealth of excellent writers from coast to coast. After reading Michael Winter‘s Minister without Portfolio (Canada Reads), I decided to read another book set in the rugged, beautiful province of Newfoundland.
The main character, Moses Sweetland, lives on an island named after his family – Sweetland. The government is persistent in their offers to buy up the properties, relocating the Newfoundlanders to another part of the province but only if each and every resident agrees. Sweetland draws the ire of his neighbours when he refuses to sign the deal.
As he considers the offer, he reflects on his life and family history on the island including much loss and heartbreak. He describes the colourful characters that live on the island including his own family with their own secrets, his beloved nephew with autism, the neighbour who never leaves her home yet is part of the community from her window, the barbershop owner who has never cut hair and the neighbour mentally damaged by drinking kerosene as a child. These individuals form the fabric of a community that has supported each other to survive.
The second part of the novel describes the loneliness, independence and reflection of an older man living all alone on the island after he fakes his death and returns to his home. He fights the weather and his thoughts as he lives off the land with limited supplies, all alone. Sweetland and the island share both a name and an intimacy that keeps them together. As Sweetland struggles to survive, the author slowly reveals events of his past including the death of his brother and his own unfortunate accident while working in Toronto which provides perspective as to why he refuses to leave.
Crummey has described the scenery and wildlife in a way that enhances my goal to visit Newfoundland. He describes the coast and island living in a way which romanticizes the barren land even though he is said to have lived in a landlocked part of the province. He slowly develops his characters, doling out the stories of their past in small doses while the reader waits patiently for more detail. Interestingly, Michael Crummey, wrote without quotation marks signifying the dialogue in the same way Winter did which blurr the lines between conversation and thought.
Sweetland is a contemplative, reflective novel which makes a reader think about the vitality of life and the sadness of loss and death. Sweetland is a character with fierce independence who lives his life on his own terms and Sweetland is an island with rugged beauty, unforgiving weather and hardship. Sweetland – the novel, the character and the island – combine to keep the reader thinking about the story long after finishing the book.