Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Canadian book challenge - 13th post

So I have been creeping up on the 13th review, and here it is.  Maybe a book that touches upon trench warfare is an appropriate 13th novel.  Or not.  I definitely had a hard time getting into Hugh MacLennan's Barometer Rising, due to the somewhat alien mentality of the characters.  The novel was written in 1941 but is set in 1917 in Halifax.  A great deal is made of the fact that the female lead is helping design ships for the British Navy to the point where it is almost like they are talking about putting lipstick on a pig.  The other characters are so incredulous about this and other aspects of this fairly liberated woman, that I wonder if MacLennan is just going too far.  Maybe it really was all but impossible for a female to be in such a position in WWI (with women really entering the workforce in WWII).  Maybe it would have made more sense for her to have a more "realistic" job for that era, since we also hear about how scandalous it was that this woman was having dinner with a known drinker, etc. To top it all off, she has an actual scandalous secret that she does keep hidden. Her father is a bit tyrannical, except with her, and he really loses it when he realizes that his nephew has come back from the war (rather than being blown up at the front).  The main plot of the novel is the nephew's attempt to clear his name and avoid being court-marshaled and shot.  Even when given the offer of slinking away to the States, he decides that he loves his country so much that he will take the risk.  (Again, perhaps over-egging the pudding.)  The major sub-plot involves a doctor back from the war who is struggling to regain use of his arm (and who drinks too much) and who also begins courting this female ship-designer.  There are a number of sociological asides about how Canada is linked to England and how the fairly rural life of the Maritimes is coming to an end and that people moving to Halifax from the country are generally doing this for their children.  At times the digressions are a bit much.  (As an aside, I suspect the sociological insights come even heavier in his novel Two Solitudes which probes the English-French tension in Canada.  Something for the next challenge perhaps.)


Not sure this is a spoiler for any Canadian who really knows his or her history (or who reads the blurb on the back cover), but there is a munitions ship that explodes and destroys half the town.  The book's pacing definitely get better after this enormous explosion, and we see who pulls through. Yet it is a little unrealistic in that virtually everyone who does survive becomes much nobler during the aftermath, but that can be overlooked. It is certainly true that at least in the short term, this kind of trauma would bring the community together. Still, this is not likely a book I'd return to.

While I don't think it will be an explicit goal, I will probably work my way through most of the books in the "New Canadian Library" over the next 3-4 challenges, as this is a pretty good list of the key Canadian novels of the early 20th Century.  However, I will kind of draw the line at the earlier books like Haliburton's The Clockmaker or anything by Susanna Moodie.

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