Gaff Topsails

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Penguin Group USA, Mar 1, 1999 - Fiction - 448 pages
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This novel is a tapestry woven from sea, soil, and the souls of a small Irish Catholic parish on the coast of Newfoundland. It is June 24, 1948 - the Feast of St. John the Baptist, the Bringer of Light, commemorated with bonfires ignited on the headlands. Father MacMurrough, newly arrived and desperately lonely, reflects on a failed love affair. Michael Barron, a young mute, falls in love and is puzzled by the way that his life - like the tremendous iceberg he and his friends explore - is turning into a dangerous business. His pious younger brother, Kevin, is terrorized by whispering monsters and imagined sins. Mary, an adolescent dreamer, invokes the pagan superstitions of Midsummer's Day in the hopes of divining her future husband. On a rooftop overlooking the sea, a woman rocks her baby as she waits for her fisherman husband to return home. Meanwhile, Old Johnny, the drunken lighthouse keeper, staggers through the day, haunted by the phantoms of his past. Behind all of them looms the founding father of the village, an Irish castaway, the son of a monk, dead five hundred years. Even in the middle of the twentieth century, something of his spirit survives within every soul in the community.

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User Review  - LynnB - LibraryThing

Gaff Topsails tells the story of a number of Newfoundlanders on June 24, 1948. As school ends for the summer, and the town gets ready for the annual St. John the Baptist celebration and bonfire, the ... Read full review


User Review  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

A wealth of fascinating material and its author's lyrical prose style are the saving graces of this ponderous, overheated first novel from and about Newfoundland. Its actions occur during a single day ... Read full review


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About the author (1999)

My life has in many ways been a tragedy and a failure," wrote Patrick Kavanagh toward his death. Born in Innishkeen, County Monaghan, Kavanagh ended his formal education after grammar school. He lived on a farm in his native parish until moving to Dublin in 1939, which he later described as one of the great mistakes of his life. There he supported himself primarily through journalism until awarded a sinecure of #400 a year for extramural lectures at University College, Dublin. After an illness in the mid-1950s, he grew resigned to obscurity and mellowed in his long literary war with both Irish repression and the Irish literary establishment. Besides his journalism, he also wrote novels of an autobiographical type. Sprung from Roman Catholic peasant stock, Kavanagh saw himself as voicing his own heritage against more anglicized (and more famous) writers. His first volume, Ploughman and Other Poems, established the rural themes that mark much of his verse. His best-known, and perhaps his greatest poem, The Great Hunger (1942), follows a potato farmer named Patrick Maguire through the famine of the 1840s and presents a blistering attack on the sexual and spiritual deprivation of rural Irish peasantry. Kavanagh later criticized the poem as lacking humor, and his subsequent work shows a more temperate acceptance of the ironic comedy of life, as in "Canal Bank Walk.

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