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THEATRE OF FISH
Travels Through Newfoundland and Labrador

Author: John Gimlette

Gimlette’s journey across this harsh and awesome landscape, the eastern extreme of the Americas, broadly mirrors that of Dr. Eliot Curwen, his great-grandfather, who spent a summer there as a doctor in 1893, and who was witness to some of the most beautiful ice and cruelest poverty in the British Empire. Using Curwen’s extraordinarily frank journal, John Gimlette revisits the places his great-grandfather encountered and along the way explores his own links with this harsh, often brutal, land.

At the heart of the book however, are the “outporters,” the present-day inhabitants of these shores. Descended from last-hope Irishmen, outlaws, navy deserters and fishermen from Jersey and Dorset, these outporters are a warm, salty, witty and exuberant breed. They often speak with the accent and idioms of the original colonists, sometimes Shakespearean, sometimes just plain impenetrable. Theirs is a bizarre story; of houses (or “saltboxes”) that can be dragged across land or floated over the sea; of eating habits inherited from seventeenth-century sailors (salt beef, rum pease-pudding and molasses;) of Labradorians sealed in ice from October to June; of fishing villages that produced a diva to sing with Verdi; and of their own illicit, impromptu dramatics, the Mummers.

This part-history-part-travelogue exploration of Newfoundland and Labrador’s coast and culture by a well-established travel writer is a glorious read to be enjoyed by both armchair tourist, and anyone contemplating a visit to Canada’s far-eastern shores.

From Publishers Weekly
Gimlette's account of his journey through Newfoundland and Labrador is more personal than his last travelogue (At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig, set in Paraguay); he's tracing his own history as he follows the trail of his great-grandfather, a nineteenth century missionary doctor. Rather than slowing the pace, the family connection increases his chances of stumbling across weird and wonderful tableaux, and the turns of phrase Gimlette uses to describe them are as singular and unruly as the isolated and forgotten land he explores ("The sky was clean as a knife," for instance). It's difficult to avoid feeling like a keen sense of the absurd rules the northeastern reaches of North America: bear-fighting goats, an emergency air-landing strip serving the whole world and countless ghost towns left from the heady days when the cod fishing ruled the island; every place Gimlette visits is stranger than the previous. He weaves his ancestor's tale with his own travels and the region's history without creating an overwhelming tangle, although at times his delivery is choppy and truncated with abrupt section breaks. Usually, he eases into each locale, finds the oddest, most garrulous inhabitant and listens to their complaints, theories and family sagas. Readers will be fascinated by Newfoundland's and Labrador's bizarre, often tragic pasts and equally strange presents, and they will be glad it was the eloquent Gimlette who made the trip so they don't have to. 16 pages of photos not seen by PW.
© 1997-2005 Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.
$25.00 (hardcover)
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