Books

7 books that inspired The Innocents novelist Michael Crummey

The East Coast writer is on the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist for novel The Innocents.
Michael Crummey's new book is called The Innocents. (Doubleday Canada, Holly Hogan)

Michael Crummey is a poet and novelist from Newfoundland and Labrador. Two of Crummey's novels have been shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction — Sweetland in 2014 and Galore in 2009.  

His 2019 novel, The Innocentsis a tale about a young brother and sister who live in isolation in a Newfoundland cove during in the 18th century, surviving on knowledge their parents left behind. 

The Innocents is on the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist. The winner will be revealed on Nov. 18, 2019.

Here are seven books that have shaped Crummey's life and work. 

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf, recounts a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

"I was a huge Woolf fan in university, but Mrs. Dalloway is the one I reread most recently. I was stunned by how modern it feels. Everything that fiction has done in the last century or so —  in terms of narrative technique —  Woolf had already done with Mrs. Dalloway.

"She wrote an essay called Modern Fiction in which she was comparing the kind of fiction that was written in the late 19th to early 20th century to what she wanted to see in her day. She talked about life being a 'luminous halo' that surrounds us from the beginning of consciousness to the end — and trying to give a sense of that as opposed to thinking about plot, character and all that sort of stuff. I feel like that was her life's project and it's all in there in Mrs. Dalloway."

Famous Last Words by Timothy Findley

Timothy Findley was a Canadian novelist and playwright. (Canadian Press, Penguin Canada)

"Timothy Findley was my first literary discovery when I was about 17 years old in my first year in university. It was a time when I started independently looking for fiction and I found The Wars, which I loved. Then I read Famous Last Words. The book blew my mind. It was the first time I had encountered that kind of mix of fact and fiction. He took a whole bunch of facts from the time of the Second World War and connected the dots.

"It's a conspiracy theory novel. He created a story to connect the dots between what seemed entirely plausible. It was a way for him to explore the rise of fascism at that time. That's probably the book I've reread most of my life. It certainly was my biggest early influence."

Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen is a legendary figure in the world of music and literature. (Getty Images, Emblem Editions)

"I read Beautiful Losers in high school. I didn't know what the hell it was. I couldn't make sense of it from beginning to end. But I could not put it down. I found that book incredibly compelling, off putting and mysterious.

"It was one of the first times where I thought there was more to a book than just what happened."

Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro 

Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2013. (The Canadian Press/Chad Hipolito/Penguin Modern Classics)

"I feel like I could have chosen any book by Munro. But Lives of Girls and Women is one I read early on. In some ways this book does a lot of what Woolf was asking fiction to do.

"That's the brilliance of Alice Munro stories — when I'm reading her books I'm thinking that this is exactly how life is. I don't know if there's another writer who writes sex more convincingly. I don't hear that talked about a lot in relation to her. In terms of what sex is in the life of the character — and how it moves and operates in their lives — is completely awesome."

Beyond Remembering: The Collected Poems of Al Purdy

Al Purdy was a Canadian poet. (alpurdy.ca, Harbour Publishing)

"When I started out wanting to write, it was poetry that I was most interested in. Purdy was one of the early discoveries who stayed with me for a long time. I would say he was a bad influence on me because his voice is so distinct. His poetry is all about the persona that he has created, therefore no one writes like Al Purdy for a reason. I spent a lot of time trying to write like Al Purdy, which was a mistake!

"He's an essential writer, for sure. He's one of the first truly Canadian writers, who wrote out of this place and explored all of human history in a way."

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

Gabriel García Márquez is the author of the celebrated magic realism novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. (Harper & Row, Edgard Garrido/Reuters)

"This was the most recent book I read that had a massive influence on me and my writing. I remember reading that book and so much of it was foreign to me. But I immediately thought that this is just like Newfoundland. It's the way he writes about how culture operates and how the otherworldly exists alongside the real world — and how people made no distinction between those two things.

"I like the way he mixes a high seriousness with low humour. There were so many things about it that made me realize that there's a book to be written about Newfoundland that does some of the same things. Galore, which was my third novel, is a complete rip-off of this book."

Dictionary of Newfoundland English

"This is probably the most influential book in my life. It's about 600 pages and a work of incredible scholarship. It tried to get on paper the incredible linguistic richness of the oral culture, inventiveness and humour of Newfoundland. It shows how rich the oral culture of this place has been for the last 400 or 500 years.

"It's been a resource for me for every book I've written since I was since I started writing fiction. Sometimes I've sat down and read it cover to cover, just for the pure pleasure of it."

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