Theatre of Fish

Published by Hutchinson on 3rd February 2005

An extraordinary journey across the magnificent, bizarre coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.

John Gimlette’s journey across this awesome and often brutal eastern extreme of the Americas broadly mirrors that of Dr Eliot Curwen, his great-grandfather, in 1893. Curwen spent the summer there as a doctor, and was witness to some of the most beautiful ice and cruellest poverty in the British Empire. Using his great-grandfather’s extraordinarily frank journal John Gimlette revisits the places the doctor encountered and along the way explores his own links with this brutal land.

As the heart of the book, however, are the present-day inhabitants of these shores. Descended from last-hope Irishmen, outlaws, navy deserters and fishermen from Jersey and Dorset, these ‘outporters’ are a warm, salty, witty and exuberant breed. They often speak with the accent and idioms of the original colonists, sometimes Shakespearean, sometimes just plain impenetrable. Theirs is a bizarre story; of houses (or ‘saltboxes’) that can be dragged across land or floated over the sea; of eating habits inherited from seventeenth-century sailors (salt beef, rum pease-pudding and molasses); of Labradorians sealed in ice from October to June; of fishing villages that produced a diva to sing with Verdi and of their own illicit, impromptu dramatics, the Mummers.