The Startling Contrast Between Innocence and Experience in The Innocents by Michael Crummey

I finished The Innocents last night, and I’m still trying to process all that occurred within in the space of the last few chapters.

At first glance, The Innocents is a story of survival–how a brother and sister fend for themselves in a deserted cove off the shores of Newfoundland. Diving further into the book, however, there are nuanced layers and disturbing themes I didn’t foresee. The ending left me disturbed, shocked, and contemplative. I was reminded of the Romantic English poet, William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience. Especially the contrast between the “The Lamb,” in the first section and “The Tyger’ in the latter. I felt the characters in this book were a merging of the two contrasts: innocent, and yet so far from innocent at the same time.

After the sudden deaths of their parents and baby sister, Evered and Ada survive for years entirely by themselves, foraging off the land and water, and using their wit and skills to brave the harsh winters. Forced to grow up too quickly, in a way their innocence is already stolen at the beginning of the book. They are alone in the world, and maybe because of this, they form a deeply lasting bond, fiercely dependent on each other. They grow up, with no knowledge of the outside world, and no knowledge at all of what it means to become an adult.

They are, in a way, mini-adults and mature beyond their years for their determination and ceaseless work they do to stay alive. And yet, there is a sorrowful innocence and ignorance about them. Denied the guidance of adults at an imperative time in their lives, they move from childhood to adulthood, innocence to experience without fully understanding what is happening. Even in the shocking aftermath of what transpires, they seem to hold onto a guileless innocence.

Because of some of the shocking elements in the book, I’m hesitant to recommend it. However, I must say the prose is phenomenal, and the setting so vividly displayed I felt transported to the coast of Newfoundland. Michael Crummey is a spectacular writer, and I can see why this book was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Also, I recently discovered that the first book he ever wrote, The River Thieves, was also shortlisted for the Giller Prize, on top of being a Canadian bestseller and winning various writing awards. I’m in awe. That’s an amazing feat to accomplish as an emerging author!

Tw: This book contains some very disturbing parts, so if you’re a sensitive reader, I’d use caution.

This review is also posted on my Goodreads and Instagram accounts.

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