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ON THE BOOKSHELF: Twine Loft


Gerald Roy reviews Twine Loft in this month’s column.

Let me first go over what I found positive in Twine Loft. It is a very well written series of stories, poems and songs as the author remembers them. And kudos to the editors who did gather them in appropriate, cohesive groups. Now comes the more critical part of my review.

I found that Brown recounts quite accurately what life was like in the ‘60s and ‘70s in remote outports of Newfoundland. He is on the mark in describing the more simple and yet just as enjoyable life of a lad with so many adults to admire and emulate. But by and large it comes off somewhat as autobiographical as he relates episodes as a young boy, a young adult and a man before and after the relocation experiment of the Smallwood government. What I failed to find in this collection and what I feel was not only expected, but needed, is the Newfoundland culture. Without that, a large chunk of the book felt greatly lacking and unappealing.

I seriously doubt – scratch that – I am convinced that the language used in the stories wasn’t how things were really said. Granted I am a Newfie only by virtue of having lived a major part of my adult life here. Still I reveled in listening to people using their unique pronunciation and quirky words, the dialect and colloquialisms that can vary so wildly even across this one province. In effect, it appears to me that the entire exercise was translated, so to speak, into modern 20th century English.


Over my many years of cross-crossing the island, I have visited a number of these outports from Petites to Ramea, from Grand Bruit to Francois, and the language I heard was not the one used in this book. So I was sad in realizing that even as true as the stories were, the culture and by extension much of the province’s personality and appeal was lost. I failed to see the “narn” and the “I’s”, the “we ones” and the “nary”.

I recall a motel in one town named” Arn smarn narn”. That really had me stomped. Tried as I did I could not make sense of it till I asked my brother-in-law and good friend Tom Kettle who translated it to mean “nary a one this morning Norm”. That’s the language I was hoping to find in the Twine Loft. So a font of Newfoundland idioms and odd way of expression it is not.

Of course there are some gems thrown in here and there that are not part of everyday conversation such as “punt” or a “jack “ (a diminutive version of a schooner). But these are spread far too thin. Setting matters greatly in a book.

In my opinion, this book would be of interest to folks who lived similar experiences and want to relive those days, or to historians studying the aftermath of resettlement. But to the average outsider, this would be of little interest if they are seeking a taste of Newfoundland.

Because of this lack of cultural accuracy, and limited readership interest, my rating is at the lower end of the scale, and it is only because of the correct grammar and presentation that I have rated it as high as I have.

Twine Loft: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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