She encouraged him to write about Canada, the country he knew best. Penelope Wain believes that her cousin, Neil Macrae, has been killed while serving overseas under her father, Colonel Geoffrey Wain. The family is under the impression that Neil had died in the disgrace of desertion. Neil, however, had not died, but has returned to Halifax to clear his name of its tarnish. Neil seeks Alec MacKenzie, the only other survivor of their unit who can confirm that Colonel Wain had given an contradictory order, which was impossible to fulfill.
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Shelves: favourites , oh-canada , gift-card , , From the very beginning of Barometer Rising, you can tell this is a singular book.
The foreword sets the stage when it says that this book "is one of the first ever written to use Halifax, Nova Scotia, as its sole background. From the very beginning of Barometer Rising, you can tell this is a singular book. Amazing also describes this book well. The story takes place from a few days before to a day or so after the Halifax Explosion, which occurred on December 6, It was a horrific event: a munitions ship collided with a relief vessel and caught fire, but only a few people knew what was really inside, so lots of people were out on the street watching the ship burn when it exploded.
It is still one of the largest non-atomic explosions in history, or something like that. But we are not following the crew of this ill-fated vessel. Instead we focus on Neil MacRae, a disgraced soldier who has returned to Halifax, where his lover and also his cousin Penelope Wain still lives. She believes he died in Europe, so she has managed to carry on, holding down a very respectable job designing ships.
What will happen if their paths crossed? How much has Penny changed? Has Neil changed? And of course what impact will the Explosion have when it occurs? This is quite honestly a brilliant book.
As a poet, MacLennan is blessed with a gift for description. He picks the right words and uses all of the senses, making the scene come to life. For example, the foghorns whose sounds permeated the walls of the Wain household. You can almost feel the bellow rattling around in your own bones when you read those lines.
It is utterly breathtaking, speaking to both the quality of his research and his ability to conjure up the perfect image. Even though what happens in the harbour is a matter of historical record and cannot be changed this is not an alternate history novel , the dread one feels at the Imo approaching the deadly Mont Blanc is palpable, and the moment the ship goes up is sickening.
This is one of those rare books where I feel even a tiny bit comfortable discussing themes and symbols. To conclude this review, I shall leave you with a short passage from the last little bit of the book. No matter what happened to him in the future he would always be able to tell himself that he had survived worse things in the past. Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit. Only one who had experienced ultimate things could comprehend the greatness of that line.
The line in question is from The Aeneid, and one possible translation is "Perhaps it will be pleasing to remember even this one day. Very moving, beautifully written, Barometer Rising is a must-read for Canadian literature fans and anyone interested in historical fiction.