In Margaret Atwood's 'The Robber Bride', one of the characters notes that Canadians are always making jokes about 'Newfies' (Newfoundlanders). While Donna Morrissey's novel certainly puts paid to any idea that the inhabitants of Newfoundland are in any way stupid, it's not a great advert of life in the island.
The novel is set in Hare's Hollow, a tiny, bleak costal village. Kit, the heroine, is the child of a mother with severe learning difficulties who was raped. She is brought up primarily by her fierce grandmother Lizzie, and the local doctor, despite the evil machinations of the Reverend Ropson, who wants her put into an orphanage. Hare's Hollow is not a happy place. The men have no career options either than fishing the dangerous sea or enlisting in the army, the women make jam and look after their menfolk. There's no sense of a wider world, and schooling means nothing to most of the young people. So, it's not a nice life generally. But it becomes much worse for Kit when Lizzie dies, leaving her in sole charge of her mother Josie - and with a nasty serial killer prowling the vicinity. Eventually, Kit gets help via an unlikely friend - the Reverend Ropson's son Sidney - and after various unhappy adventures, she and Sidney run away to get married. But the worst is yet to come, as Sidney's mother has some devastating news....
Morrissey makes a good job of conveying Kit's heroism and determination, and writes lovingly about some of the local traditions, such as the jam-making, and about the family who succour Kit after her second brush with tragedy. But the book has an unremittingly and often monotonously bleak tone, and the characters are for the most part not very interesting - either exaggeratedly villainous such as the Reverend, or saintly such as the doctor. Josie may be meant to be pitiful, but - particularly with her irritating repeated cries of 'you're farmed! Farmed!' is for the most part just irritating. I cared about Kit and Sidney to a certain degree, but the amount of misery heaped on them in each chapter got more and more unbelievable. Thomas Hardy (to whom Morrissey has been compared) can get away with this sort of thing because his characters are so interesting - Morrissey, with much flatter characters, has the tendency to just sound melodramatic. It says it all that this is the sort of novel where, when a girl finds and cherishes a cat as her pet, you know in a couple of chapters the animal will be horribly murdered. I found the limitations of the island - no one had any interests (there wasn't even the warm, folktale and folk music traditions explored in Hardy) or ambition - claustrophobic, and the sections with the serial killer boring as well as uninteresting - his motivation was never explained. So, while I felt pity for Kit, I could never get really involved with the novel, and ended it with some relief.
For me, this was a book with potential that didn't quite work. Still, there were some interesting ideas among all the misery and staginess.
on 19 November 2011
Donna Morissey is a new writer to me. In, "Kit's Law,"She writes about the lives of a family in Newfoundland and like any other family they have their problems. Morrissey pulls no punches and what you read, emotionally, is what you get.
I lived in Eastern Canada for two years and never made it to Newfoundland but I knew that life there could be tough and at times, I found Morrissey's writing brutally honest but she could also bring me to tears as I felt Kit's pain and the way life treated her and her Mother.
Morrissey was born in Newfoundland; so she knows the life she is writing about.
She is so talented as a writer; the storyline is like the waves of the Atlantic......it lifts you up as it roars up the beach......then the waves draw back, softly dragging the shingle and gently putting you down.
For a first novel it is brilliantly written and I feel quite confident that her second novel, "Downhill Chance," will win a new band of reading fans.
on 13 March 2002
This is a marvellous book, similiar in places to Annie Proulx and so much better than many other books that are hyped and pushed down our throats. Wonderfully, gripping and humane it is the story of a girl who must care for her wayward and simple mother when she is hardly old enough to care for herself.
Although gentle in style the story propels forward to what you fear will be an inevitable conclusion but Donna Morrissey has plenty of surprises in store, not all of which are unpleasant.