Unlike Michael Crummey's previous novels, where the characters are sometimes subsumed by the vastness of Newfoundland, in 'The Innocents' the adolescent protagonists, Evered and Ada Best, are central to the story.
Set some time in the early 1800s, the story follows the orphaned siblings in their harsh struggle for survival in their isolated cove. Without access to or knowledge of the outside world, the children have to rely on their own strength and limited resources to survive whatever nature throws at them.
Despite all the pitfalls, the close relationship between Evered and Ada comes through, particularly in the early chapters of the book. They truly are innocents, prompting me to wonder how, if I had been orphaned in an isolated cove with no one around from whom to learn, I would know that incest was wrong. Would I know how a baby is conceived? How would I understand anything? I wouldn't, and Crummey is very careful to protect Evered and Ada so that no one should think badly of them.
The story has its genesis in a report Crummey discovered some years ago in provincial archives of a peripatetic 18th Century clergyman who came across an orphaned brother and his pregnant sister living in an isolated cove. After concluding that the brother was the father of the baby, the clergyman beat a hasty retreat from the gun-toting young man.
Despite the rawness of the youngsters' situation, there is beauty in the writing. There is also beauty in the cover of the book, taken from a 2009 painting by Diana Dabinett, a visual artist who lives in Shoe Cove, Newfoundland.