The Loss of the Marion
If whipping posts were still in fashion I fear I would be flogged for not being a true Newfoundlander — or something.
Before reading Linda Abbott’s The Loss of the Marion [Flanker Press] I’d never — Never! Not once! — listened to the song of the same name. Give ‘en twenty stripes! I was aware of the song’s existence and, sure, I’d heard scraps of it as background music here and there — at a wedding, p’raps — but I’d never — Never! Not once! — tuned an ear in from start to finish. I hadn’t even skimmed the lyrics. Give ‘en another twenty stripes! Since reading this novel inspired by the actual events related to the Marion’s loss, I’ve done both. At Mr. Google’s house, I found and read the lyrics — “She’s a Fortune Bay schooner sailing out from St. Jacques.” After leaving Mr. Google’s house I went YouTubing until I found a video of Simani singing “The Loss of the Marion.” Cut ‘en loose! Set ‘en free! If nothing else, Linda, you’ve helped me redeem myself — p’raps — in the eyes and minds of true Newfoundland. For that, my thanks.
I’ve noticed that some Newfoundland authors include food in their opening scenes. A spell back I ReMarked on a novel that titillated my taste buds in its opening paragraph with a description of patch-a-berry jam. Now, here’s Linda Abbott generating drools with her opening sentence: “Eight perfectly rounded fish cakes sizzled in the iron pan.”
B’ys! My hand automatically reached for the Heinz bottle so I could glob those cakes with ketchup.
The main character in this novel is Nellie Myles, a woman who often has “funny feelings” — that’s bad funny, not ha-ha funny.
Nellie has a bad feeling about the Marion’s impending voyage to the Banks. Not only do those feelings torment her, but also, to make matter worse she sees a token of her husband Harry enshrouded in fog. The appearance of a token is a sure sign that death is imminent.
Fewer than 50 pages into the story, the Marion is lost, and there are still more than 150 pages to read. More than 150 pages seen from the perspective of — mostly — the women and children left behind.
Nellie’s daughter, Bessie, is often haunted by a nightmare phenomenon known to Newfoundlanders as the Old Hag.
[Parenthetically, most folks cod themselves that the Old Hag is simply a nightmare during which the dreamer believes he is fully — fully! — awake, but paralysed, and a demon-like creature is about to gobble him up. I know — and so do you, if you’re honest — that the Old Hag is real and if she grabs your guts you’m a goner.]
Anyway, Bessie is repeatedly troubled by a nightmare of an evil, hooded man, thus establishing the possibility of a truly malevolent vil’yen in the vicinity.
Has Bessie’s hooded man somehow been involved with the Marion’s loss? Is he maybe Captain Maurice, a Frenchman who appears to be Ike Jones’ nemesis? Did he follow the Marion from St. Pierre and scuttle her at sea?
You know I can’t answer these questions. Besides, there is the possibility that a German warship fired on and sank the Marion. It was 1915, after all.
And, hey, the hooded man might only be a denizen of Bessie’s nightmare, a substitute for the Old Hag herself. You think? If the hooded man is a vill’yen, he is not alone. There is a lesser vill’yen, a wicked aunt who is horrid enough to have stepped out of the pages of a grim fairy tale. Nope, can’t tell you who she is. The plot of The Loss of the Marion is full of entertaining developments. Just when one crisis appears to be resolved another obstacle is piled on the load. The plot is as twisty as a tansy coiled around a barnacled rock.
There’s no denying that the loss of the Marion and her 17-member crew was a tragedy, a tragedy too common in Newfoundland’s history. There’s no denying that the families left behind must have suffered physical hardship and enduring grief.
Nevertheless, Linda Abbott has gone beyond the actual particulars of the catastrophe and written a yarn that — dare I say it? — is fun to read.
For example, when the identity of the hooded man is eventually revealed, you can pound the table top and say, “I bloody well knew that’s who he was!” Thank you for reading. Harold Walters is an avid reader living in Dunville, Placentia Bay. He can be reached by email at the following: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org