The Winterhouse is a jewel of a historical novel, focusing on two rarely-explored threads of Newfoundland heritage. One concerns the Jewish presence in Newfoundland, the other the tradition in some outport communities of spending the harsh winter months in a “tilt” or “winterhouse” in the woods, protected from the more severe weather by the ocean.
These two threads come together in a small, quiet and intensely personal story. It’s the tale of Rosehanna Quint, a teenage girl abandoned after her mother’s death and her father’s hasty remarriage. Her father, who is the merchant’s agent in their small community, turns over management of the merchant’s store to a newly-arrived European stranger.
The slowly-growing relationship between the quiet, reserved, but resilient Rosehanna and the man she calls “the mister” turns from a chilly marriage of convenience to something much more like friendship when the busy months of summer end and they find themselves in the enforced idleness and closeness of the winterhouses.
This budding relationship forms the plot of this novel — a simple and understated story in which every word and glance takes on significance. The sense of time and place is so vividly created you can almost smell every smell. McGrath is a powerful and evocative writer, and this novel deserves to be widely read by everyone who enjoys historical fiction, especially those who like Newfoundland history and want to explore some of the lesser-known corners of our past.