‘Sylvanus Now’ by Donna Morrissey

“On Canada’s Atlantic coast at the edge of the great Newfoundland fishing banks of the 1950s, Sylvanus Now is a handsome and wilful fisherman. His youthful desires are simple: he wants a suit to lure a girl—the fine-boned beauty Adelaide—and he knows exactly how much fish he has to catch to pay for it. Adelaide, however, has other dreams. She longs to escape the sea, the fish, and the stultifying community, but her need for refuge from her own troubled family leads her to Sylvanus and life in the neighbouring port.”

This book is a love letter to the Newfoundland of the 1950’s. It’s the first in a trilogy that I will definitely be reading all of. Evocative and heartbreaking, it is a character driven novel that also does a beautiful job of highlighting how individuals were affected by the cataclysmic changes that were forced upon them by the outside world. Foreign trawlers and the advent of modern industrial factories robbed simple fishermen of their livelihood. Sylvanus and Addie are at the center of this novel and they are unique and intriguing characters. All of the personalities in this novel are so distinctive and the setting is beautifully atmospheric. Even though the novel is not big on plot, and a bit tedious at times, there is an earthiness and everyday drama to it that I really enjoyed. According to reviews, apparently the pacing picks up in the later books, especially in The Fortunate Brother which ended up being a mystery set in the Alberta oil fields.

The titles in the trilogy in order are:
Sylvanus Now
What They Wanted
The Fortunate Brother

Note: when reading the Newfoundland dialect, I found it helpful to know that b’ye means ‘boy’ or ‘buddy’, not goodbye.

I’s the b’y that builds the boat
And I’s the b’y that sails her
I’s the b’y that catches the fish
And brings them home to Liza.

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