Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Sylvanus Now #1

Sylvanus Now

Rate this book
On Canada's Atlantic coast at the edge of the great Newfoundland fishing banks of the 1950s, Sylvanus Now is a handsome and willful fisherman. His youthful desires are simple: he wants a suit to lure a girl—the fine-boned beauty Adelaide—and he knows exactly how much fish he has to catch to pay for it. Adelaide, however, has other dreams. She longs to escape the sea, the fish, and the stultifying community, but her need for refuge from her own troubled family leads her to Sylvanus and life in the neighboring port.

Through this story of love, loss, and facing the inevitabilities of life in a floundering community, the sea is a potent presence, modernization ravaging its shores and bringing it to the cusp of cataclysmic change. Ultimately, Sylvanus Now is a story of redemption against all odds "in a world vanished, but brought vividly back to life in Morrissey's caring hands" (Quill and Quire).

338 pages, Paperback

First published September 1, 2004

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Donna Morrissey

14 books233 followers

Donna Morrissey has written six nationally bestselling novels. She has received awards in Canada, the U.S., and England. Her novel Sylvanus Now was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and she was nominated for a Gemini for best writing for the film Clothesline Patch. Her fiction has been translated into several different languages. Born and raised in Newfoundland, she now lives in Halifax.
She recently wrote a children’s book, Cross Katie Kross, illustrated by her daughter, Bridget. Morrissey grew up in The Beaches, a small fishing outport in Newfoundland & Labrador and now lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
261 (25%)
4 stars
464 (44%)
3 stars
254 (24%)
2 stars
45 (4%)
1 star
12 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 112 reviews
Profile Image for D.A. Brown.
Author 1 book12 followers
November 6, 2012
I have just read a novel of such unspeakable beauty that I am overwhelmed. Donna Morrissey's Sylvanus Now is breathtaking, right from the first vision of Sylvanus jigging fish: right forearm up, left forearm down, left forearm up, right forearm down; to the vision of Adelaide's eye, sparkling blue. It's a novel about the changing of the fishery in Newfoundland, when large trawlers came in to rape the seas and the governments abandoned both the sea and the careful tenders of her in favour of cheap fish and way too much of it. It's a story of a people forced to change their ways of life, and it seems as fresh now as when it was written, as we all cope with a changing economy and hang on the American election with bated breath, wondering what our future in Canada holds, tied as we are to the tails of the American Bald Eagle (a carrion-eater) and the Chinese Tiger (endangered by environmental change).

Donna Morrissey has won many awards for her writing, and they are well-deserved. Her power in a sentence is vast. Her ability to evoke the feelings of the people she describes, complicated and earthy and thoughtful and hidden as they are is astonishing.

I can't believe I hadn't read her before.

It's funny the reaction I have when reading such writing. I relax into the book, knowing I am in the hands of a master, knowing the book will take me on a ride and enclose me in its world. I stay awake, eyelids flipping up and down like a blind in the hands of a misbehaving preschooler, unwilling to let the world go, reading just that one more page. With lesser books, I stay alert, less involved, easier to distract, more likely to put it down, even if it is a good book. The great books show me their hearts. I can't help but respond.

And the feeling lingers. After Sylvanus Now, I want to go out and see the sea, inhale it, feel its call, see the salt-bleached houses, run the wind through my hair.
Profile Image for Lars Jerlach.
Author 3 books161 followers
May 18, 2017
The novel is set in the remote and often ferocious world of the outports of Newfoundland, in a place where the craggy exposed hills are merely used to look for lost men at sea, and where burials are an all too frequent occurrence.
Although the story is centered around the emotional intricacies between two people, Sylvanus and his wife Adelaide,  the novel is concerned mostly with a transitional world in which the traditional fishing methods are exchanged for trawlers and giant factory ships and the local fishermen are forced to adapt to changing times. Throughout their grief and personal tragedies Sylvanus and Adelaide attempt to stay true to themselves and their traditions, but as the outside world inevitably begins to interfere with their reclusive lives, they are both faced with dramatic changes to their existence.
Although their world is a stark and forbidding place, there are comforting pauses to be had in the monotonous repetitions, and a great deal of time to ponder the implicit conundrums of the intellect, the immense tragedy of loss, but also of hope and love.
The strength of the novel is that the descriptions of the area and the people are beautifully poetic and feels remarkably authentic and that the main characters are  extremely well crafted.
Sylvanus and Adelaide are fraught with anguish and complex internal conflicts, that instantly makes them relatable and deeply human. Their troubled but powerful relationship is thoroughly clouded in the mystery of unspoken words and enigmatic actions and the reader is drawn into a stark unforgiving world that is as turbulent and deep as the ocean upon which most of the story rely.
Sylvanus Now is a powerful and poignant depiction of the complexities of a troubled relationship against the loss of a now vanished world, a world  that will one day exist only in our memory.
Profile Image for Krystle.
30 reviews
March 12, 2016
6/5 stars!

Sylvanus Now is one of the best Newfoundland books I've read, and I've read quite a few! Everything about this book made me completely fall in love with it. This is the first of Donna Morrissey's books that I've read, but I will certainly be checking out her other novels after reading and enjoying this one.

The story of Sylvanus Now is so beautiful and rich. Donna's writing is flawless and she perfectly captures the spirit of outport NL; at times, I felt as if she had been writing about my little community. Everything was so similar to my way of life and so relatable. Her characters truly do accurately represent the people of small communities around the province. As the story progressed, I found myself relating more and more to Adelaide; our personalities are so eerily similar, and rarely do I find a book with a main character I can identify with so well. I could also see a lot of my family members woven within the personalities of the other residents of Cooney Arm and Ragged Rock. I always appreciate it when an author makes the characters and the story so easy to follow and relate to.

This is a book that really tugs at the heartstrings of any Newfoundlander, especially those of us who've spent our lives in a tiny outport fishing village. And for someone only in their 20's (like me), or even their 30's, it's an excellent look at the way of life for previous generations. Not only is this novel a heart wrenching love story, it's also a portrait of life in NL as the fish stocks began depleting. Advancements in the fishery were making it harder and harder for people to get by the way they always have. This is heavily reflected in the love story of Sylvanus and Adelaide as their strength as a couple, and as individuals, was constantly being tested; they were feeling pressure from the government, their families, and most of all, from themselves. The way their relationship would fluctuate between good and bad made for a very riveting and touching story as they fought to overcome each and every obstacle.

Up until they found each other, (and even sometimes throughout their relationship and marriage), Sylvanus and Adelaide were two people who usually preferred their own lonesome company over the company of others. Yet despite their desires for aloneness, they developed a love and a need for each other that was too strong to be denied. Donna Morrissey has done a remarkable job of crafting these characters and their stories in such a way that makes them so easy to relate to, and so easy to sympathize with.

This book took me on an emotional rollercoaster and was filled with numerous thought provoking tidbits. I love that in a book; I love when an author's words make me feel things so strongly and deeply, and that's just what Morrissey has done here. I love this book so much, I immediately want to read it again and again. I will never get tired of it and I look forward to reading more of Donna's sensational work. I highly recommend this book to anyone, especially Newfoundlanders, who would really appreciate it as much as I do.
Profile Image for Pauline.
284 reviews20 followers
October 10, 2008
"Sylvanus Now" takes place in the 1950s on Canada's Atlantic coast. Sylvanus Now is a Newfoundland fisherman and all he wants is a new suit, so he can catch himself a wife.

Adelaide is smart and beautiful with ice blue eyes. She excels in school, but her mother takes her out of school to work the fish flakes which Adelaide absolutely abhors. Due to lack of money to care for all the children Adelaide's mother has born Adelaide is forced to help provide for and care for them.

Sylvanus becomes infatuated with Adelaide and decides to make her his wife. She is cool and aloof towards Sylvanus, but after a melt down at home she is more than willing to marry Sylvanus especially since he promises her that she would not have to have anything to do with the fishing industry and she could have a home to herself.

Times have never been easy for Canada's Atlantic fishermen and with the freezer factories and other huge boats over fishing the waters and scraping the ocean's floors lifeless there is less fish for Sylvanus to catch on his own. Not only is the ocean becoming lifeless, but Adelaide and Sylvanus' babies keep dieing at birth.

The government has a plan to relocate the Newfoundlanders since the fish industry is decimated, forcing Sylvanus and Adelaide to make a decision to stay and fight for their lifestyle or to relocate. The decision they make makes Sylvanus a lesser god, but protects what gave their life meaning.

"Sylvanus Now" is beautifully written, I was able to picture the Atlantic Ocean and Sylvanus fishing on it and the big freezer factories decimating our Canadian waters. Definitely a great read for those interested in what over fishing has done to our oceans and for anyone yearning to know more about Atlantic Canada.
Profile Image for Ann.
Author 3 books16 followers
December 11, 2017
A Canadian masterpiece!

Donna Morrissey's Sylvanus Now introduces us to a wholly-dedicated Newfoundland fisherman in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Sylvanus's wants are few. He wants to be alone in his boat on the ocean jigging for cod and he wants Adelaide for a wife. Adelaide doesn't want to be a wife and she detests anything to do with fish. She wants to get an education at leave her outport community.

Morrissey's tale is breathtaking beautiful. It sounds a simple story, but she tells it in such a way that these two people matter more than anything else in the world. Sylvanus's love for his life at sea is lyrical and hauntingly touching because of the wholesale greed by trawlers and factory ships harvesting and wiping out the cod. Then there is the government resettlement scheme.

Sylvanu's mother, often in the background, is a force of nature and nurture. Unforgettable.

I can't wait to read What They Wanted, which continues the story.
10 reviews3 followers
August 31, 2007
This is wonderful historical fiction! In 1950's Newfoundland, a way of life for generations of fishermen is being replaced by government (Canadian) re-organization and relocation of the sparse and hardy populace. A young couple who are each a bit different from the rest of the villagers, find love, loss and ultimately peace. This is the third novel by Donna Morrissey. Downhill Chance and Kit's Law. All are set in Newfoundland and are beautifully written. Her novels are full of a strong sense of time and place with finely drawn characters and emotional impact.
Profile Image for Candice Walsh.
384 reviews50 followers
May 8, 2021
This might be one of my favourite books about Newfoundland & Labrador, ever. The brutal realities of life in outport Newfoundland in the 50s and 60s as inshore fishermen began being forced out by unsustainable fishing practices, and then forced into resettlement. Seriously, this book will stay with me for a long time.
12 reviews1 follower
January 14, 2009
Straight out of Newfoundland, you'll feel yourself living in that place and doubtlessly searching your own heart. Another excellent read!
Profile Image for Orla Hegarty.
457 reviews37 followers
November 1, 2020
I've tried this author with another book before and it didn't 'stick'. This one did. I've been living in outport Newfoundland for 7 years now and loved the historical fiction in this story. I look forward to finishing this series.
17 reviews1 follower
March 17, 2017
Loved this book. Great story, well written and riveting. Can't wait to read What They Wanted but I have to buy it first.
Profile Image for Tammy S .
142 reviews
February 8, 2020
First of my Newfoundland reads. The first part moved quickly for me. Didn’t love ending. Looking forward to book 2. Descriptive.
Profile Image for Joanne.
1,118 reviews24 followers
March 14, 2017
This first book about the Now family is beautifully written. The author is skilled at evoking every day Newfoundland, especially the rural outport villages. We meet Sylvanus and Adelaide Now in their younger years, as they struggle to start a family and maintain a way of life in a fishing outport that is quickly disappearing.
The problem I have with the book is that I just can't find Addie a very sympathetic character. She's a dreamer who wants out of the life she's always had: she hates the ocean, hates caring for her younger siblings, longs to be a missionary in Africa, yet she marries Sylvanus, who is very traditional and has expectations of a normal life of fishing and children. Then she spends the next decade in a fugue of depression and anger. I wanted to slap her silly at times.
I'm glad I've read other books about this family before going back to this one, or I never would have finished it.
2,003 reviews11 followers
June 10, 2018
Atlantic Canadian writer Donna Morrissey has set her third novel against the background of the failing cod fishery in 1950s Newfoundland. Fishing was the mainstay of the island, the work that for hundreds of years had fed and supported families living in scattered and isolated fishing villages along the huge island’s coast. Getting around the island was difficult so fishermen settled as close to their fishing grounds as they could, clustering in small groups in scattered outport settlements. They salted and dried their catch when they caught it so fish could survive the wait to get to market. It was a difficult life. The work was hard and friends and families stuck together to support each other through hard times. This story laments the old way of life which disappeared when the waters were overfished and the cod almost disappeared completely.

Sylvanus Now is a fisherman living in Cooney Arm, a small remote group of houses by the sea. Sylvanus is the youngest in his family, his two older brothers Manny and Jake are married and have families of their own. They lost their father and their oldest brother Eli at sea and their mother Eva is haunted by her loss. Sylvanus loves the sea and jigging for cod and he hates school where he does not do well. Letters and figures on a page don’t make sense to him although he can easily determine the amount of wood needed to fill any given space. He finally left to do what he was good at, fishing. He loved the entire process -- jigging , gutting and splitting the catch and getting it into the brine.

Sylvanus falls in love with Adelaide a beautiful young girl from the neighbouring outport of Ragged Rock who hates the sea and the fishery. As the eldest in a family with many children, she spends her days scrubbing floors, doing dishes and laundry and looking after her many brothers and sisters. Her mother Florry always seems to be pregnant and the babies just keep coming, year after year. Addie does well at school and dreams of one day leaving the place where she feels trapped and unhappy. She wants to travel and see the world. Get away from the fish, the sea, the boats and the community where everyone knows everyone else’s business. Her only solace is the peace and quiet she finds at church when there is no one else there. She loves the quiet and the solitude. Her greatest need is just to be by herself.

When Adelaide is fifteen her dreams are cut short as she is forced to leave school and help support her family, working on the flakes where the cod is dried and salted. The fish catches are down and her father hardly makes enough to earn his berth on the boat. The work is hard and Adelaide hates the stench, the feel of soggy salt fish and the constant irritating flies. She has callouses on her hands, now reddened and scaly from the brine and she feels slovenly and unkempt. She deeply resents not being allowed to finish school; it was her ticket out of this place where she is so unhappy.

When Sylvanus promises to build Adelaide a house of her own and that she will never again have to salt fish, she submits to his charms. It is an escape from her own home filled with dirty dishes, diapers, squalling children and back breaking work on the flakes, a way out of the life she despises. But she will face many struggles that will test her in this union with a man whose devotion to the sea and the work he loves is unshakeable, even as he works tirelessly to give her the comforts that make her happy.

Although this is a love story, readers will find little romance on these pages. Instead they find the story of a young couple who grow to care for and love one another as they face short periods of happiness but also deep enduring tragedy. They are two very different people. Sylvanus knows his calling, while Adelaide remains angry and unsettled, still longing to escape the world of fish, her stifling family and the nosy neighbours. Meanwhile the world around them is quickly changing, forever affecting the way of life they have known for years.

Fishing is no longer focused on a single fisherman jigging cod in his dory. Huge trawlers are now fishing on the sea shelves off the coast. There are hundreds of trawlers out there, huge sixty foot vessels with thousand foot nets that are dragged indiscriminately along the ocean floor. They dislodge boulders, crush millions of fish and ruin spawning grounds and fish habitats while catching thousands of fish in their nets. Unwanted or fish damaged in this destructive process are simply dumped back into the sea and become food for the gulls. Many of the trawlers are captained by foreigners who are required by law to stay three miles out from shore, but despite the pleas of the fishermen, the government refuses to enforce the regulations, insisting there is enough fish for everyone.

The drying flakes are being replaced by fish plants, factories that offer good paying jobs to many of the wives who flock to them for regular paying work sheltered from the vagaries of the harsh weather. But it is not long before the increasing demand for fresh fish leads to more changes, with huge factory ships from all over the world freezing fish on board and delivering them to factories back in their home countries. There is more fish taken from the waters by ships from foreign countries than by the Canadians.

The fisherman can easily see there are fewer and fewer fish. The big fish are all gone. Some days they have to throw most of their catch back into the sea because they are underweight and some days there are no fish at all. It takes forever to get a decent catch. For generations fishing families have been pleading, begging and petitioning the government to scourge the ocean of the big trawlers that continue to pillage the sea, leaving destruction and waste in their wake and threatening their distinction of a way of life. But no one has listened. Instead politicians and government officials have continued to insist that there was plenty of fish for everyone.

Sylvanus and Addie struggle as their livelihood and way of life is threatened. The government entices them with “resettlement”, trying to gather families into larger groups to ease the requirements for expensive infrastructure projects such as roads and schools. As the politicians see it, there is no need for families to live scattered far and wide and close to their fishing grounds. The cod of the inshore fishery, once so plentiful, are gone.

Morrissey has created realistic characters in this novel, each with their own flaws and internal conflicts. Sylvanus and Addie are well drawn but a few in the supporting cast get equal attention. Sylvanus’ mother Eva is the epitome of the strong willed wife of a fisherman. She still scans the sea everyday watching for her lost husband and son. Even as the years pass, she still believes they will return home one day. And there is Suze, who irritates Addie and pushes to be her friend although Addie is always pushing her away. There are also Manny and Jake, Sylvanus’ older brothers, who also struggle to adapt and cope with all the changes in the fishery but want to move on, encouraging Sylvanus to join them as they see the old ways of life falling apart. But Sylvanus is a stubborn man and insists on sticking with the old ways, fishing from his dory and keeping his body close to the sea, resisting the temptation to get into longliners and trawlers.

Morrissey’s writing brings readers right to the island landscape with her vivid descriptions of the homes, the flakes and the wild beauty of the coast. She provides detailed descriptions of fishing, filleting, salting and drying the fish. But it is the dialogue, so well done in the distinctive Newfoundland dialect with its unique colloquial speech which brings the novel home.

It all comes together to create a beautiful and very compelling novel.

Profile Image for Kris (My Novelesque Life).
4,660 reviews189 followers
January 6, 2018
(Review Not on Blog)

"On Canada's Atlantic coast at the edge of the great Newfoundland fishing banks of the 1950s, Sylvanus Now is a handsome and willful fisherman. His youthful desires are simple: he wants a suit to lure a girl—the fine-boned beauty Adelaide—and he knows exactly how much fish he has to catch to pay for it. Adelaide, however, has other dreams. She longs to escape the sea, the fish, and the stultifying community, but her need for refuge from her own troubled family leads her to Sylvanus and life in the neighboring port." (From Publisher)

I really enjoyed this novel! I have heard great things about Morrissey so I was thrilled when I was approved for her newest novel, The Fortunate Brother. Then I realized that it was actually the third book in the Sylvanus series. While they seem to stand on their own, the books are connected. I like reading these in chronological order so I don't get spoilers, but also because I love seeing characters evolve as well as the writing. I was happy to see that my library had this book so I decided to read this first. Morrissey is great at storytelling and character development. There is no major action but the story flows so that I read this novel in one sitting. I am looking forward to the next two novels.
Profile Image for Michael.
Author 4 books22 followers
March 25, 2009
I admire novelists who are able to capture the living soul of a culture. One of the best I’ve found in that regard is Canadian, east coast novelist Donna Morrissey. Her novels are vivid portraits of maritime Canada which probe the deep set values of the people who inhabit it. She also recreates the east coast dialect convincingly.

“Sylvanus Now” portrays a culture whose ingrained way of life is being pushed aside by the advance of technology. We watch as Sylvanus Now proudly and stubbornly resists the tide of change on principle and because the way of life is in his blood. His fate becomes interwoven with Addie who conversely longs to escape the life she was born to. The result is a fascinating sociological and psychological study.

Donna Morrissey’s distinct narrative voice echoes throughout “Sylvanus Now”. She has clearly found her niche and mines it both thoughtfully and passionately.
82 reviews5 followers
August 6, 2013
Sylvanus Now by Donna Morrissey

When was the last time you read a book that was so beautifully written that you took the time to reread passages? “She’d seen the soft green of the first seedling push its head above ground and quiver upon the slightest breath.” “Sylvanus Now” is not only the title but the name of the main character, a stubborn man , who wants to live a simple life of fishing in a tiny village on the coast of Newfoundland. He figures out exactly how much fish he must catch and prepare in order to buy a new suit. He wins the heart of Adelaide who is the oldest of a large brood of kids. She can’t wait to leave the ruckus and the fishing way of life behind. But her life has other plans for her. The love story between Sylvanus and Addie, the relationship with the sea and the historical narrative of the fishing industry make for a captivating read. One cannot help but respect those fisherman of years gone by. Quite an eye-opener and a great story!
Profile Image for Marianne Last.
37 reviews
May 8, 2015
I felt this book in my bones as I was reading it! The prose is some of the most poetic and elegant I've read in a long time. This book isn't about reading to get to the end, it's about the journey and making every word count. I appreciate that in a book and in an author's skill.
Profile Image for Kathleen McRae.
1,499 reviews8 followers
September 6, 2017
The writing in this book was evocative and the characters well defined, however, it was a depressing story.
Profile Image for Doreen.
1,016 reviews40 followers
May 25, 2018
I read this book in 2005 when it was first published. I’ve subsequently read the two other books in the trilogy: What They Wanted and The Fortunate Brother. I recommended Donna Morrissey to my book club and suggested we start with Sylvanus Now since it’s the first in the series. And it gave me an opportunity to re-read it. I think a second reading of it only heightened my appreciation.

Sylvanus Now is a fisherman from the Newfoundland outport community of Cooney Arm. He falls in love with Adelaide, a beautiful girl from nearby Ragged Rock. Adelaide wants to escape her stultifying life working the flakes drying cod and helping care for her many siblings. Sylvanus convinces her to marry him, promising her, “’You won’t ever have to touch a fish agin’” (103) and building her a house with no windows facing the flakes or the sea. The two face personal tragedies and the outside world intrudes as they work at building a life together.

Set in the 1950s, this novel is also the story of changes in the Newfoundland fishery. Sylvanus fishes the traditional way, by hand-jigging and drying his catch on flakes, but the traditional fishery is being supplanted by trawlers using gill nets and by giant factory ships. Sylvanus’s method of fishing is very ethical as well; in the first fishing trip described in the novel, he releases a mother-fish full of roe which has not yet spawned: “The ocean’s bounty, she was, and woe to he who desecrated the mother’s womb” (4). His method is contrasted with that of the trawlers, “scraping the bottom, getting the mother-fish and all them not yet spawned” (200). Sylvanus witnesses one of the colossal factory ships wasting thousands of fish when a net splits: “Within minutes Sylvanus’s boat was encompassed by the fish now drifting on their backs, their eyes bulging out of their sockets . . . their stomachs bloating out through their mouths . . . Mother-fish. Thousands of them” (255). Because of foreign freezer ships, “offshore killers,” the fish Sylvanus catches become smaller and eventually he catches fewer and fewer. Sylvanus foresees the collapse of the cod fishery because of what he views as a raping of the sea: “What kind of fool can’t figure we’re farmers, not hunters; that we don’t search out and destroy the spawning grounds, that we waits for the fish to be done with their seeding, and then they comes to us for harvesting” (219)?

This is very much a novel of character. Adelaide and Sylvanus in particular are developed in depth. A reader will feel as if s/he knows these people because they are so realistic. They have flaws and inner conflicts which make them relatable and sympathetic. In some ways, the two are foil characters. For instance, Sylvanus “was poor at book learning” (4); what he loves is his life fishing which gives him “satisfaction” and “fulfilled him” (3). For Adelaide, school is “salvation. For it was there her work was tallied, and her excellence in Latin, calligraphy, and reading raised her to the front of the class” (27). Because he loves the sea, Sylvanus imagines “The sea would be [Adelaide’s] garden” (21), but “She hated the water, hated its stink of brine and rot and jellyfish, and hated how all night long it shifted and moaned like some old crone hagged in sleep. And worse, she hated the briny smell of salt fish” (26). Yet they do share some similarities. For instance, both enjoy being alone, Sylvanus on the sea and Adelaide in her house.

For me, Adelaide is the most relatable. She’s a dreamer with aspirations to be a missionary and not just a woman whose worth is “determined by the white of her sheets flapping on the line” (29). She’s very intelligent and loves school, so being forced to stop her education and work on the flakes is heart-breaking for her; she becomes “a soul forced along another’s wake” (43). Her desire to escape the wretched work on the flakes and at the cannery and the “bathing, diapering, and feeding the babies, and scrubbing, sweeping, and picking up after the toddlers trailing behind her” (24) is understandable. Likewise, her desire to be alone is understandable. She has virtually no time to be alone in peace and quiet. Unfortunately, her wanting to be alone earns her a reputation as being standoffish. When women come to comfort her, she interprets their visits as attempts to snoop and gossip: “so far had she dwelled outside the lives of these neighbours, their goodwill had less effect upon her heart than a tepid kiss upon a wintery cheek” (156).

Fortunately, Adelaide is a dynamic character. Suze gives her a gift which acts as a catalyst for change. Suze also tells her, “’We don’t know half the time what we’re giving others. . . . there’s a comfort knowing others are suffering worse than you right now. Makes you think about them rather than yourself’” (164). And Adelaide listens and acknowledges the wisdom of this warm-hearted, generous woman “whose soul she had shunned because it couldn’t read a prayer book” (162). She realizes her selfishness: “’Perhaps I don’t think of anybody long enough to talk about them. . . . I never done that in my life – go visiting somebody needing company’” (160). The window Sylvanus puts in their house symbolizes Adelaide’s new outlook.

The relationship between the Sylvanus and Adelaide is developed very clearly. Sylvanus’s love for Adelaide is so obvious: everything he does, he does for her. He builds her the type of house he thinks she would like, and he tells her not to worry: “’Strong hands, I’ve got, and a strong mind when it comes to caring for you’” (169). He’s always thinking of things to make her happy and make her life easier: “And it was nice, those gifts he kept bringing her, of snow crab, and scallops bigger than tea plates, and handfuls of last summer mint tea buried beneath the snow, and the paths he kept well shovelled . . . “ (170). Because we are given their perspectives in alternating sections, the reader sees what they think of each other and how misunderstandings arise. During an argument, Adelaide twists away from her husband, “her mouth lined with self-loathing” (176) but Sylvanus interprets her actions differently: “she had pushed him away, staring upon him with loathing” (199). Both leave much unspoken and that causes problems.

The dialogue is perfect because Morrissey has truly captured the Newfoundland dialect. The conversations between Sylvanus and his brothers really need to be read aloud.

This book is highly recommended to readers who like complex characters. It will take a reader on an emotional ride; s/he will feel anger and sadness but, most of all, admiration for the spirit and resiliency of a people faced with harsh realities. And for those who have fallen in love with the Now family, there are two more books chronicling their lives; I think I will re-read both What They Wanted and The Fortunate Brother.

Please check out my reader's blog (https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski).
Profile Image for Melinda.
974 reviews
June 17, 2023
Historical fiction set in the isolated fishing villages of Newfoundland, this novel was hand-sold to me by a bookseller in Charlottetown PEI while I was on vacation. Thank you. This was the perfect novel to read on the bus, although the writing was so beautiful I found myself murmuring in dialect, possibly scaring my companions. This is the kind of story that totally pulled me in -- the end of close shore cod jigging, the brutal weather and seas of Northern Canada, the working lives of the characters, the very adult, complicated, and wondrous love story all creating a net that held me both suspended and immersed. Morrissey takes you deeply into the lives of Sylvanus and Adelaide, the two main characters that come of age and deal mightily with change. The descriptions of women working the flakes, tending cod, and in the processing plant are incredible. Adelaide's postpartum depression tugs the reader into her grief and loss. I marked several passages that made me swoon. If you enjoy serious historical fiction that truly takes you to another place and time -- read this novel. I've already ordered the second in the series. Thank you Donna Morrissey, and thank you bookseller.
895 reviews
September 13, 2023
A very good story of the struggles of the people of the small Newfoundland outports to make a living in the face of depleting fish stocks attributed to excessive catches by increasing foreign fish fleets using giant fishing boats with dragnets, freezers on board, and fishing continuously for 3-4 months at a time- and also by the Newfoundlers themselves switching from the traditional dory, line fishing twice a day on the inshore, salting&drying on shore to longliners fishing further out with longnets and changing to working in large fish plants where the fish are processed for fresh consumption. We see this through the eyes of Sylvanus Now a fisherman in a small outport who opts to remain in the traditional path while his 2 brothers decide to get a longliner. It's also the story of the hard life of the families expressed in the Newfie dialect with conviction&passion. Adelaide Sylvanus's wife gives up her aspirations to get away when she marries him, and then sinks into depression after 2 miscarriages which crushes the early intimacy of their union. Only at the end does she open up to him again, and helps him cope with the changes which they are all facing.
141 reviews
September 6, 2018
I read this book in preparation for a hiking trip in Newfoundland this fall. The story takes place in a small fishing village on the coast of NF in the 1950s and beyond. The historical context is the collapse of the cod fishery of NF with the arrival of industrial fishing. This is an ominous presence throughout the book as Sylvanus Now, one of the two main characters, is committed emotionally and economically to traditional fishing* methods. In the midst of this, Sylvanus falls in love with a headstrong woman named Adelaide, and the book is the story of their marriage and how they respond to the historic pressures around them. The book is a difficult story, but is enjoyable because of the clear writing and the rich descriptions of life on the coast of NF. I would recommend it to anyone interested in a good story, but especially to anyone who has an interest in NF or in the causes and impacts of industrial fishing.
Profile Image for CarolynAnn.
540 reviews1 follower
August 18, 2020
3.5 star
I bought this book primarily because I'm a fan of Morrissey's writing even though I didn't find the cover synopsis particularly compelling. I found the story quite slow at the start but certainly enjoyed the descriptions, language and atmosphere she created which transport the reader directly to the outports of Newfoundland. But it didn't take long for me to get caught up in the characters and story and I could certainly feel the great challenges that Newfoundlanders faced as their way of life was chipped away at and how families were torn apart by resettlement. While I didn't find the characters in this book as compelling as I have in other Morrissey books, it is still a good read. I know that there are two more books with the same characters so it might have been that this story was just the 'lead in'. I'll be interested in the sequels.
Profile Image for Nuzhat.
272 reviews
November 22, 2019
While this took me a while to get through, I did ultimately enjoy it. I wasn't expecting to relate to the characters as much as I did because of the unfamiliarity of their life in the late 1950s on the shores of Newfoundland. The author captures the harsh environment and how it influences people. I also think this tale of having to make individual compromises because of the changes that the system is imposing because of ignorance and profit can be a foreshadowing of what is currently happening with climate change. How will we maintain our values and what's important to us as our current course is unsustainable?
30 reviews2 followers
January 30, 2021
This is a hauntingly beautiful book about a fisher family in a Newfoundland outport in the 1950s. Times are changing in the fishing industry and Sylvanus Now and his family are forced to make decisions that will impact their livelihood.

The story was well written. I felt like I was there; that the characters were real. And that I had been a privileged guest in their home.

If you love books about Newfoundland, or family relationships, or historical fiction, I think you would love this gem of a book.
Profile Image for Annette.
958 reviews
March 24, 2017
I liked this story better as it went along. Life for fishermen and the community is difficult expertly explained here. I could feel the cold sea and weather, chilling to the bone. Not a life for me but beautiful in itself I imagine for those where it is home.
Time seems important, the longness of it, the passing, the sorrow with brief contentments . . it seems treacherous at times when waiting for a spouse to come home from the waters, or when one knows he is not returning.
A plain 3.5 stars, some passages were tedious to get through.
Profile Image for Lester.
1,342 reviews
October 11, 2017
Oh the intricacies of lives!!

Good quote...
"What's you pouting about now-- the flakes or your wife? Bend over, my son, I kicks your arse. Go dig a hole, Jake, we buries him. Where's that shovel? go on home, b'ye, if that's what you're going to do all night, sit there and mope...."

Even better if you have good friends from the East Coast and whilst I am reading Donna Morrissey's books..I can hear my friends talking!!
Thank you again DM for the wonder of your stories.
Profile Image for Daniel Kukwa.
4,123 reviews92 followers
June 22, 2017
Evocative and heartbreaking...which is now all I expect from Atlantic Canadian writers. What keeps the reader going to the end of the novel is a small, shining thread of hope running through the story. It refuses to diminish, even during the darkest events. Hold on to it tightly, and you might be surprised at the outcome.
June 21, 2018
This was a capital L Love Story, about strong commitment and devotion. Set in outport Newfoundland at the time of the downturn in the fishery, it highlights the strength of character of the people and their struggle to maintain their way of life. Sylvanus and Adelaide epitomize integrity and real love.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 112 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.