Harvey is in fact a very daring author who isn't afraid to take chances and this novel, which took 15 years to write is a masterpiece.
At 848 pages, Blackstrap Hawco is many books, not just in length, but in tone and style and subject and theme, and taken all together, this is a rare book that deserves the label "masterpiece" in every sense of the word. Blackstrap Hawco can be divided into more or less two halves: the first skipping around the history of four generations of Hawcos, using the various first-person voices of the characters that each chapter focuses on; and the second half is a linear account of the title character, told in a third-person-omniscient style, and overlapping the timeline from the first section wherever Blackstrap was present. What links the two is the history and folklore of Newfoundland and Blackstrap's position as a near mythological character; the last true Newfoundlander; an indomitable force who is present at all the significant historical events that occur within his late twentieth to early twenty-first century lifespan. Or in a stream-of-consciousness, without capital letters or periods (this example is not quite half of one paragraph): shab reardon bellowed, his greyish-white hair combed neatly with the grease of brylcream, his stout face that of a handsome, charismatic man, gone bad from drink and a heritage of brutality, a guttural howl in the name of some forefather's forefather, down the line of ramshackle midnight terror suffered by their children and their children and theirs, usually a quiet, meek soul, a man who drank and brooded alone for hours, watching where his hands were set against the table, meant to be left alone while studying his glass and thinking on self-shaped shadows And in one of the last chapters, the following is the writing style used for a fifth generation Hawco, a modern day teenager: He tears opN d padded Nvelop n pulls ot a thik bunch of folded sheets of ppr. More than anything, Blackstrap Hawco is a book of atmosphere, with many characters who are mentally ill, or haunted, or otherwise disengaged from their own lives, and it makes for a consistently uncomfortable read. The history of the Hawco family is the purported premise, but with rapes and secret adoptions and questionable paternities, it's unclear if there's any continuity in the bloodline from one generation to the next. When an old woman in Toronto promises to tell Blackstrap the legend of the screaming woman who was pregnant for thirteen months, he doesn't even realise that's the story of his own great-grandmother; and yet, that might be a relationship in name only, and a made up name at that. I've read other books that mention The Ocean Ranger disaster or William Croaker or Christmas Eve mummers, and I've read other books that encompass the modern history of Newfoundland , but I've never experienced these things as I have here through the person of Blackstrap Hawco; the man who can't be killed. Harvey took fifteen years to write Blackstrap Hawco, and throughout, he writes as though the assembled stories come from actual diaries, interviews, and historical documents related to the Hawcos. As with any good yarn, there's enough verifiable in this story to make a reader want to believe in the possibility of an actual Blackstrap, but this final paragraph in the afterword extends the author's literary manoeuvring: The (transcomposite) method of writing has been employed so that, as the years rise toward the actual year (2042) when the author is committing these words to paper, more and more of what has been recorded in this book will align with plausibility. In fact, there is only one day in which the underlying premise of this book becomes sound -- January 22, 2042.
I put this book on my BookCrossing wishlist a few years ago, having read and appreciated this author's earlier book, Inside. Now there's one thing to wanting to read and wanting to have read a book and another to actually reading it, especially if the book is about 830 pages and you're a slothful reader like me. When a person gives you a book you profess to want, it's only polite to read it. The first half and then some of the book (referred to as Book 1) spans the time between 1886 and 1992 and traces the colourful and intriguing Hawco/Lambly family history from Ireland to Newfoundland. Emily and Jacob have three children: Jacob Jr (Junior), Blackstrap and Ruth and, now who the heck are Patrick Lambly and Rose Cavanaugh? It's fascinating because as we untangle relationships, we also sort out, as best we can from what we are told, the tragic events that have befallen this family, the loyalties, the truths and fictions that have ensnared themselves to each other and to Newfoundland. The story he knows is the Patrick touted a hero for trying to rescue Portugese sailors from a shipwreck. But he is a tragic figure (in the same way as Newfoundland), he doesn't belong in his time, he doesn't know what he wants, he doesn't know what has happened to his life, what's the worth of anything. The chapters in this book follow the events and personalities of the times in the "outside world". The final Book, with its three chapters was most poignant to me as we visit Blackstrap Junior, Agnes (the one woman Blackstrap truly loved and wanted in his life) and Ruth, the daughter Blackstrap never really knew. Junior and Ruth are all but oblivious to their history and their father and family, their lives nothing like what their father would want for them. I remember as I read Kenneth Harvey's previous book, *Inside* being surprised at his writing style of very short sentences, expecting him to drop that style after the introduction but when he didn't, I settled in, comfortable with it. This book may be fact, may be fiction, but the reading of it has made it truth for me.
He used Newfoundland historical events as touchstones in the lives of the characters. He touched on lives of different generations over a couple of hundred years in the families of Blackstrap Hawco. But the last half to third of the book returned to a more traditional narrative form, and by now became a story really just about Blackstrap. The style though leaves one with the sense that these characters are more animal than human; they seem almost incapable of intelligent decision-making. Well, sadly, this is likely an accurate representation of not just Newfoundlanders but people all over.
there is such a rawness here always tinged with stoicsm and - very occasionally- warmth,even in the most damaged characters.loved thelurching backwards and forwards in time in pt1, unlike another review i have read,it made me even more hungry for this epic tale.have to agree at the moment that pt 2 is lacking the substance of pt 1 though-but pt 1 is a hard act to follow!
Harvey's books are published in Canada, the US, the UK, Russia, Germany, China, Japan, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark and France.