Historical fiction should do two things. #1 Portray the time period, culture, and events with accuracy (i.e. be well researched); #2 Entertain.Annie Daylon’s “Of sea and seed” succeeds on both counts. She has captured Newfoundland’s history with articulate accuracy and she has captured the cadence of “Newfie” speak excellently. I know, as I have friends and family from Newfoundland. The pages are so well rendered that the reader forgets time and tasks to be done. When I did put the book aside for short periods, then had a chance to pick it up again, I told my husband that I was ‘going back to Newfoundland’.
The story begins shortly after World War I. During these early years, Newfoundland was not part of Canada. A land of fishermen and their families. A time when fishers worked not for money, but to be paid ‘in kind’. They were beholden to the merchants who ran the store and worked within the ‘truck system‘. This was a time when the skilled men and women of Newfoundland did everything themselves. They built their own houses and boats, made their own shoes and clothing, gardened for their own vegetables. A time when there was a huge disparity within the class system.
The title refers to seed: that is human offspring and the families that endured through years of hardship and disaster. Seeds that were born both in and out of wedlock.
“Secrets and sins”
This novel introduces the Kerrigan family. Irish Catholic immigrants who settled in Argentia, on the Avalon Peninsula and toiled the sea to put bread upon the table. The mother, Kathleen, the father, Alphonse (a veteran of the Great War), their son Kevin, a fisher like his father, their daughter Clara, who married a rum-runner, and baby Jimmy who died in infancy.
When baby Jimmy passed away, Kathleen never recovered from her grief and was eventually sent away to “The Mental” (the psychiatric hospital in St. John’s). Alphonse was left with his two children, work to do, and too many bottles to drink. Kevin escaped at the age of sixteen to fend for himself. Clara was not so lucky…
“The sea is a cruel witch who takes what she wants when she has a mind to.”
When Clara was sixteen her life was irrevocably changed when she met Patrick. A few months later she was banished across the bay to live with her brother’s family… By the time she was seventeen her father had found her a husband, an Englishman, a gentleman, and a rum-runner named Robert Caulins. Clara had no choice in the matter. Rum-running was very lucrative as Newfoundland, Canada and the United States were living through the years of prohibition.
“The laws were made for men, by men. Women were chattel and baby-makers”.
The Kerrigan family were Roman Catholics. The priest wielded much power over his parishioners. He had the power to condone, or to vilify and to condemn. Clara considered herself a sinner and confessed her sins to the priest.
“Of sea and seed” is a story of family secrets, deprivation, atonement, sins, and guilt. This first installment in the author’s Kerrigan Chronicles, introduces us to memorable characters who have met life’s challenges with strength and stoicism. Mothers and daughter, fathers and sons.
I loved the writing. The author captured her characters with whimsy, realism, and a deep understanding. I loved the little “Newfoundlandisms”. “She was so tired she could have slept on a clothesline” ; “Won’t it be some grand, just the two of us?”; “Sure I didn’t know what I was doing”; “Just let me have at the kettle”; “She is the face and eyes of her mother”.
“There’s no accounting for the mood of the sea. It rocks you into a state of trust and then steals your soul”.
I read this novel within fifty feet of the ocean. The cadence of the surf was a fitting background for a book in which the sea was a character unto itself.
This delightful and poignant historical family saga will appeal to a wide audience. Within the narrative are a few plot twists that will please those whose tastes lean more toward thrillers and/or mysteries. I have read that it has been referred to as “literary suspense’. I heartily recommend this novel and plan to follow up by reading the further adventures of the Kerrigan family.
My heartfelt thanks to Annie Daylon for providing me with a digital copy of her novel.
This painting by Earl Bailly evokes the mood of this novel.
Annie Daylon was born and raised in Placentia, Newfoundland and now lives in Chilliwack, British Columbia, with her husband David and their dog CoCo.
After thirty years teaching, she delved into her passion for writing.
She is a member of both the Federation of British Columbia Writers and the Writers’ Alliance of Newfoundland & Labrador.