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Gaff Topsails: A Novel

Kavanagh, Patrick

47 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0670877662 / ISBN 13: 9780670877669
Published by New York, New York, U.S.A.: Viking Pr, 1998
Condition: As New Hardcover
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About this Item

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Gaff Topsails: A Novel

Publisher: New York, New York, U.S.A.: Viking Pr

Publication Date: 1998

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition:As New

Dust Jacket Condition: As New

Signed: Signed by Author(s)

Edition: 1st Edition

About this title


It is June 24, 1948--the Feast of St. John the Baptist, the Bringer of Light, is being commemorated with bonfires ignited on the headlands. Father MacMurrough, newly arrived and desperately lonely, reflects on a failed love affair. Michael Barron, a young mute, falls in love and is puzzled by the way that his life--like the tremendous iceberg he and his friends explore--is turning into a dangerous business. His pious younger brother, Kevin, is terrorized by whispering monsters and imagined sins. Mary, an adolescent dreamer, invokes the pagan superstitions of Midsummer's Day in the hopes of divining her future husband. On a rooftop overlooking the sea, a woman rocks her baby as she waits for her fisherman husband to return home. Meanwhile, Old Johnny, the drunken lighthouse keeper, staggers through the day, haunted by the phantoms of his past. Behind everyone looms the founding father of the village, an Irish castaway, the son of a monk, dead five hundred years. Even in the middle of the twentieth century, something of his spirit survives within every soul in the community.


In this ambitious first novel, author Patrick Kavanagh chronicles a single day--June 24, the Feast of Saint John the Baptist--in a remote village in remote Newfoundland. June 24 is also Sweethearts Day, a day on which young women perform rituals as old as the hills to determine whom they will marry. These two celebrations, one Catholic, the other pagan, serve as the twin lodestones around which Gaff Topsails weaves its complex tale. On the one hand, there is Father MacMurrough, a restless priest who sees his new parish as a punishment and Kevin, an altar boy troubled by notions of God and sin; on the other there is Mary, a young woman in love with love and Michael Barron, a young mute who is starved for it. These characters live out their single day between the twin shadows of two mountains (Gaff Topsails) and an iceberg offshore, their physical isolation a symbol of the spiritual solitude in which they all exist.

Comparisons to James Joyce's Ulysses are, perhaps, inevitable, with the archetypes Kavanagh presents (the fisherman's wife waiting, like Penelope, for her husband to return from the sea), the fragmented narrative, and the occasional stream of consciousness. Like Ulysses, Gaff Topsails is not an easy book to read, but in the end, this novel rewards the patient reader with a crystalline portrait of a day in the life of a small community

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