The Nettle Spinner


204 pages
ISBN 0-86492-422-4
DDC C813'.6




Reviewed by Carol A. Stos

Carol A. Stos is an assistant professor in the Department of Modern
Languages and Literatures at Laurentian University.


Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer’s first novel is a seductively strange and
powerful work that weaves its multiple layers of narrative into a
gripping and suspenseful story of love, longing, lust, life, and death
that becomes both clearer and more complex as it unfolds.

On one level, this is the story of Alma, a young woman who, because of
a chance encounter, is inspired to go tree planting in northern Ontario.
She joins a motley crew of idealists, lost souls, and transients
somewhere back of Kapuskasing and endures the flies, the filth, and the
eccentric—even bizarre—behaviour of her companions. She has a brief,
intense love affair, survives a brutal attack, and pregnant and alone
finds refuge in an abandoned mining camp inhabited by Jake, a strange
and solitary little old man. It is there that she gives birth to her
unwanted child, whom she cannot help but love, however reluctantly, and
spins and weaves fabric from stinging nettles to keep the world at bay
until events come to a climax and she decides to return to

the city.

But Alma is not the only nettle spinner; there is Renelde, the girl who
spins and weaves in the old Flemish folk tale of the same name. Nor is
Alma’s story linear. The details of her experiences reveal themselves
as the narrative sinuously loops through and between the past and the
present, interspersed with the continuing narration of Renelde’s
story. Elements of folk tale define Alma’s existence: the land holds
her in thrall; her lover is a Flemish woodcutter; Jake, like a
leprechaun, appears and disappears at will; hungry wolves roam around
the hut at night; and there is the increasingly ominous menace of an
evil presence in the woods, watching, waiting, hungering after Alma. The
end, when it comes, is terrible, illuminating, and unexpected.

Kuitenbrouwer’s prose is by turns poetic and earthy. Her characters
commit acts of great violence, extreme tenderness, and all too human
stupidity and desire. The Nettle Spinner is a compelling read and
Kuitenbrouwer is a young writer to watch.


Kuitenbrouwer, Kathryn., “The Nettle Spinner,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024,