I will bring my people again from the depths of the sea.
And while we’re reading quotations, I like this one from the back of the book jacket:
“The guy can really write: atmospheric, lucid, sophisticated storytelling with real heart.” Anne Enright, Irish Times
Mary Tryphena appears on the first page as a child and I was taken captive by the name alone and soon by the character herself. On the beach at the end of April is a beached whale waiting to be butchered by the population of Paradise Deep. A population of “Irish and West Country English and the bushborns of uncertain provenance – were camped on the grey sand…on the feast day of St. Mark.”
“They’d scaled the whale’s back to drive a stake with a maul, hoping to strike some vital organ, and managed to set it bleeding steadily. They saw nothing for it then but to wait for God to do His work and they sat with their splitting knives and fish prongs, with their dip nets and axes and saws and barrels.”
Mary Tryphena is sent by her father to fetch Devine’s widow, her grandmother, who had that morning delivered Mary Tryphena’s brother. The work of harvesting the whale had been going on all day. Fires were burning on the beach to render the blubber, the stench was overpowering and the white underbelly was exposed with the stomach’s membrane floating free in the shallows. “The Torcher triplets were poking idly at the massive gut with splitting knives and prongs, dirty seawater pouring from the gash they opened, a crest of blood, a school of undigested capelin and herring, and then the head appeared, the boys screaming and falling away at the sight. It was a human head, the hair bleached white. One pale arm flopped through the ragged incision and dangled into the water.”
“The body was dragged out of the water by Devine’s Widow and Mary Tryphena’s father. No one else would touch it though every soul on the beach crowded around to look. A young man’s face but the strangeness of the details made it impossible to guess his age. White eyebrows and lashes, a patch of salt-white hair at the crotch. Even the lips were colourless, nipples so pale they were nearly invisible on the chest. Mary Tryphena hugged her father’s thigh and stared, Callum holding her shoulder to stop her moving any closer.”
Eventually the bystanders decided that the “unfortunate soul was owed a Christian burial and there was the rest of the day’s work to get on with.” Jabez Trim conducted a service from his incomplete copy of the Bible and Mary Tryphena’s father and James Woundy began to haul the body off the landwash. They stopped to argue about whether the man was dead or alive and “Mary Tryphena stood watching the pale, pale figure as the argument went on. A man delivered from the wale’s belly and lying dead in his own filth on the stones. Entrance and exit. Which should have been the end of the story but somehow was not. Froth bubbled from the mouth and when the corpse began coughing all but the widow and Mary Tryphena scattered up off the beach, running fortheir homes like the hounds of hell were at their heels.”
They decide to take the man to Selina’s house which was a” Wexford-style farmhouse with a fieldstone chimney at its centre, polished wooden floors upstairs and down. Mullioned windows imported from the West Country of England, iron-latched doors. ” It was a wedding gift from Selina’s father but she had lived for seven years in a plain stud tilt, the rough logs chinked with moss and clapboarded with bark and she birthed three children in that shelter.
“On the morning of their (she and King-me Sellers) seventh anniversary, Selina refused to get out of bed. -I”ll lie here, she told her husband, until there’s a door on that house o close behind me.” Once the front door was hung,’Selina got out of bed and dressed, packed her clothes into a trunk and walked the fifty yards to her new home.”
Selina is just one example of the folks who live in Paradise Deep. You will meet her husband King-me Sellers, Jabez Trim the owner of the incomplete Bible, the Widow Devine who doctored the community, Callum Devine the son of the Widow and Mary Tryphena’s father Callum, his wife Lizzie, Father Phelan and, of course, “the albino stranger…known as Judah”. There are also King-me and Selina’s son Absalom and Saul Toucher and his ten-year-old triplets and Olive Trim, Jabez’s wife who walks on her hands. Oh, and Levi and Henley and and and………
After Judah arrived, the cod reappeared in great numbers. People began to call him the Great White or St. Jude. Many believed he could heal. He recognized his name and came when called, even followed orders, but he didn’t speak and folks treated him as if he were deaf.
The book might have been called Mary Tryphena or even Judah because it covers each of their lives. But it covers so much more! There are stories galore and characters galore and tears and smiles galore! Entertainment galore you might say. I’m planning on rereading very soon.