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
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.