Quill and Quire

REVIEWS

« Back to
Book Reviews

Ann and Seamus

by Kevin Major, David Blackwood, illus.

Outstanding Newfoundland writer Kevin Major has moved into new terrain with Ann and Seamus, a long, powerful narrative poem based on an event in early Newfoundland history. The story-telling skills that have made Major such a successful novelist serve well here: once you have begun to read, this book-length poem holds you rapt until the last page – and beyond, to pour over the historical note for further news of its characters.

Ann and Seamus tells of the 1828 shipwreck of an Irish immigrant ship off the south coast of Newfoundland and the dramatic, perilous rescue of more than 160 survivors from a reef off the aptly named Isle aux Morts. The surge of the language, and the intensity and elemental simplicity of the action and characters, make this a book that lives on in the imagination, a book to read aloud, a book to press on friends both teenage and adult.

One of the two title characters is a historical person, the other is fictitious. Seventeen-year-old Ann Harvey – who with her father and younger brother, rowed a 12-foot skiff into the fierce sea to rescue the survivors – is a genuine, though little-known, Canadian hero. Major draws the reader into Ann’s feelings: love for her family and the sea, frustration at the limited opportunities on their barren and isolated shore, and determination and strength in a crisis. Building on the scanty known facts of the rescue, Major has created a love story about Ann and the fictional young Irishman Seamus, who helps save his shipmates. All this is told in swiftly moving, strong, unrhymed narrative verse, with compelling and skillfully varied rhythms. The splendid text of Ann and Seamus is enhanced by Newfoundland artist David Blackwood’s atmospheric pictures.