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Barometer Rising [Paperback]

Hugh Maclennan , Alistair Macleod
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Dec 4 2007
Penelope Wain believes that 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.

From the Paperback edition.

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Barometer Rising is Hugh MacLennan's enormously ambitious first novel, a closely plotted and compulsively readable book that combines its author's love for nationalist melodrama with the grisly realism of a folk disaster-ballad. Published in 1941, as the Second World War was ripening into its full horror, Barometer Rising looks back to the Halifax of the last year of the First World War, and to one of the worst accidents in Canadian history: the explosion of the munitions ship Mont Blanc, responsible for 1,600 deaths, 9,000 injuries, and the annihilation of much of the city.

The story that MacLennan drapes over this catastrophe is the kind of suspenseful romance that would have made a fantastic Bogart and Bacall vehicle. Penelope Wain, a privileged woman in her late 20s, has found war work as a designer in her father's shipyards. Her male colleagues resent her presence but can't deny her superlative skill. A tough, independent, appealing woman, she still cherishes the memory of her former lover--her cousin Neil Macrae, who was disgraced in the war overseas and reportedly killed. Neil, however, did not die after all, and he has returned to Halifax to find Penelope and clear his name. The explosion of the Mont Blanc, which irrevocably alters the characters' lives, soon interrupts this potboiler of a plot.

MacLennan is a rather heavy-handed writer, fond of epic description and stylized, sentimentalized characters, but Barometer Rising holds together remarkably well. A much more entertaining book than Two Solitudes, it still has much of the intellectual thrust of MacLennan's later work and was one of the finest Canadian novels to appear in the 1940s. --Jack Illingworth --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.

About the Author

A major 20th century Canadian author, Hugh MacLennan was born in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, in 1907. His seven novels and many essays and travel books present a chronicle of Canada that often mediates between the old world of its European cultural heritage and the new world of American vitality and materialism. Among his many honours, he won five Governor General’s Awards. Hugh MacLennan died in Montreal in 1990.

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Customer Reviews

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly Conceived, Flawlessly Executed April 13 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Another entry from the Canadian New Library Series, another homerun for Canadian literature. That must necessarily be the ruling on this immensely engaging 1941 freshman effort from Hugh MacLennan, for "Barometer Rising" is a taut, intensely character driven novel from one of Canada's great essayists. MacLennan went on to write several other novels, more essays, and even some travelogues, history, and poetry. He is nothing if not versatile. If only more people knew about the wealth of literary gems from the Great White North awaiting their pleasure in the libraries and bookstores. For those interested in exploring the brilliance of Canadian literature, Hugh MacLennan is a great place to start. Hugh MacLennan died in 1990.
"Barometer Rising" takes place in Halifax, Nova Scotia during 1917. The war in Europe continues to grind away, chewing up young men from around the world in its trenches and no man's lands. Nearly every passing day sees troopships exiting Halifax harbor bound for the bloodbath, and nearly every day they pass supply and munitions ships entering the port on their way to and from Europe. The city is full of foreign sailors and soldiers from every point of the compass. The war is a big deal, and since Canada serves as Britain's whipping boy, Halifax provides a safe harbor beyond the reach of German U-boats. But disaster lurks in the waters off Halifax: a munitions ship loaded with 500,000 pounds of trinitrotoluol sails into the harbor and collides with another ship. The resulting explosion is nearly nuclear in its destructiveness. Thousands die as major sections of the city explode and burn. The author shrewdly sets up his novel in countdown form, beginning on the Sunday before the explosion and ending the tale the following Monday, a few days after the disaster.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Novel with an explosive subject Oct. 28 1999
Format:Mass Market Paperback
BAROMETER RISING is above all a novel of place and that place is Halifax, Nova Scotia in December 1917. MacLennan is very good at evoking the sights, colors, smells, and sounds of the city and its environs. If you have ever visited that small, but charming city, you would probably enjoy reading this novel just for nostalgia's sake. A competent, but not great writer, MacLennan portrays pleasingly rounded characters who are not stiff or one dimensional and weaves a plot that resolves itself in various ways on the occasion of the huge explosion that destroyed most of Halifax on Dec. 6, 1917, the biggest man-made explosion in history before the nuclear age. The story is rather too neat and a little banal in the way ends are tied up. If five stars are for the greatest novels you've ever read, and four for those that don't quite get up to that level, then three are for an average, competent job that can give you a couple nights' pleasure when the branches are scraping at the window in the winter wind. Try it, you might like it, but if disasters are not your bag, then avoid this book because the main character is an explosion.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good read June 16 1999
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I just loaned this book to someone who is visiting Nova Scotia on vacation. I have read it a couple of times. It's a good introduction to Halifax history and I think has a real feel for the flavor of the city. The explosion scenes are fascinating. On the other hand, the ending is a bit weak and some of the author's passages about the future of Canada seem a little outdated now.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Introspectors trapped in a web of suspense March 19 2002
Format:Mass Market Paperback
A very interesting and unusual novel, and MacLennan's first (--which seems astounding, given its stylistic sophistication). The plot is intricate and suspenseful, and three of the four main characters are portrayed as fully conscious, focused beings, who are either aware of their own motives and values, or keenly interested in identifying them; the fourth character, Geoffrey Wain, exhibits a distinctly opposite mentality, and proves--therefore--to be a villainous threat to each of the others. Nautical engineer Penny Wain, Geoffrey's daughter, is a true rarity in modern literature: an intelligent, introspective, rational heroine. MacLennan's descriptive passages are typically colorful and dramatic, and often warrant immediate (and subsequent) re-reading (even though some do seem a bit drawn-out, on first reading). The much-heralded explosion is not, for my money, quite as interesting or dramatic as other parts of the plot, so the reader shouldn't "wait for" that: the first three-quarters of the book is the main course; and the last quarter, a light dessert. Overall, MacLennan has given us a banquet to savor.
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By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Hugh MacLenan's Barometer Rising is a very descriptive account of the explosion in Halifax harbour, which killed and injured thousands of people, during the late years of WWI. There is far more to this story than just that of an explosion. In fact the majority of the novel is spent developing characters whose stories the reader follows during the aftermath of the explosion. MacLenan makes good use of suspense and irony to keep the readers attention. The actual collision of the ships in ther harbour is particularly descriptive and suspenseful! Having been to Halifax a few times, and been to the areas described in the story I feel that MacLenan quite accurately portrayed the war stricken city of Halifax during 1917. Anyone with any interest in 20th century war or the birth of Canada as a nation, should definitely read this book!
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