CanLit Challenge Book #1: Barometer Rising by Hugh MacLennan
Filed under: CanLit Challenge — Ibis at 11:13 am on Saturday, November 12, 2005

Barometer RisingBook 1, Barometer Rising (1941) – Hugh MacLennan
From the back cover:
“It is 1917, and the nightmare of World War One is dragging on through yet another winter. As far as Penelope Wain knows, her lover, Neil Macrae, has been killed while serving overseas under her father. That he died apparently in disgrace does not alter her love for him, even though her father is insistent on his guilt. What neither Penelope or her father knows is that Neil is not dead, but has returned to Halifax to clear his name.
Hugh MacLennan’s first novel is a compelling romance set against the horrors of wartime and the catastrophic Halifax Explosion of December 6, 1917.”

I’ve started a bookring for this book. If you’re interested in joining, PM me.

Other useful links:
the Wikipedia article on Hugh MacLennan
the CBC’s pages about the Halifax Explosion
the Wikipedia article about the Halifax Explosion
Canada Archives map of the devastated area
Google’s map of Halifax

My thoughts:
Initial comments—I wish I had been to Halifax. I’d love to be able to picture the harbour and the city.
I’m really enjoying the development of the characters.
There is quite a bit of self-conscious narrative or philosophising–putting things in the perspective of a larger picture. This might be considered undesirable in more current fiction, but it seems in step with fiction written at the time of the story’s setting. I recently finished Mrs Dalloway which deals with many of the same issues (effects of WWI on society and individuals, British Empire, etc.)
The choice of Penelope as the heroine’s name was certainly no coincidence. There’s definitely an Odyssey allusion here, as Neil comes back from a war incognito, with everyone thinking him dead and another suitor plying for Penny’s affections…


This was quite a good book. The description of the effects of the Halifax Explosion was phenomenal. It put one right there. Of course, I couldn’t help but compare it to more recent disasters (9/11, Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina). MacLennan really captured that sense of everything being normal one moment, without a hint of anticipation, and the next moment the destruction of normalcy. It also did a good job of taking a portrait of the country in minature at the time when we were pivoting towards the future.

I ended up reading from the beginning of Thursday right to the end of the book–what compelling reading.

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