Random Passage

Written by Bernice Morgan
Review by Sarah Johnson

(reviewed alongside Waiting for Time)

These two novels, relating one family’s struggles and triumphs in Newfoundland from the early 19th century until the present, were originally written as one book.  Not surprisingly, in order to get the fullest appreciation for the characters (and because it ends with a cliffhanger), readers of Random Passage will be compelled to read the sequel.

Random Passage begins as members of one large extended family, the Andrews, are forced to make their way from Weymouth, England to unknown prospects in the remote, uncivilized, God-forsaken place known as Newfound Land.  There, on the island of Cape Random, the Vincent family introduces them to their way of life. Lavinia Andrews, the pensive seventeen-year-old daughter, records their experiences in her journal.

The story of the family’s settlement is gritty and utterly unromanticized. Only the strong survive, but in this story, even great strength isn’t always enough.  All characters have unique personalities, from the dreamy Lavinia and her fun-loving brother Ned to the lusty, determined newcomer Mary Bundle and mysterious storekeeper Thomas Hutchings.  The dialogue is plain-spoken, rustic, and authentic.  The storyline jars at first as Morgan attempts to tell the story from too many different viewpoints, but it soon settles into easy, fascinating reading.

Waiting for Time is the story of Mary Bundle, who at seventeen has barely escaped a life of thievery by finding passage on a ship to Newfoundland.  Her life spans nearly a hundred years. Events formerly seen through others’ eyes in Random Passage are retold from Mary’s point of view, and the difference is at times remarkable.  Many events hinted at in the earlier book are finally revealed.  Mary’s tale is introduced through the discoveries of a modern-day Andrews descendant, but these modern bits were for me the least compelling parts of the novel.

My one complaint is that I was left wanting more.  I wanted to read of Mary’s great-granddaughter Rachel and of the lives of other Andrews and Vincent descendants. With its impressive characterization and unique setting, this is far from your average family saga.  Essential reading for Canadians and non-Canadians alike.