Lisa Moore's "February" is a fictional work based on a real-life tragedy: On the evening of Valentine's Day 1982, the Ocean Ranger, an oil rig off the Newfoundland coast, sustained catastrophic damage in a winter storm and throughout the night and into the next day, slowly sank, killing all 84 men aboard. Moore has taken this event as the starting point in the tale of Helen, the widow of one of the men who died that night; at the time, she had three children ranging in age from 10 to 8, and she was pregnant with another child, so that in the following years, she had four children to raise on her own. The story ranges between the time of her marriage to Cal in 1972 up through 2009, and essentially tells the story of her life and how she does, and does not, come to terms with her husband's death and her grief.... The story is very specific to this one individual, but in such a way that the reader finds global resonance with the characters and what they go through. Anybody who has ever lost a loved one will relate to this book, and Moore's ability to describe complex and difficult emotions with both clarity and poetry is terrific. The story is not told in linear form, but jumps back and forth between various years, and that technique also works well in terms of drawing the reader into Helen's life; by the time the disaster itself is described, one is fully invested in Helen's reactions to it. This book won the 2013 Canada Reads challenge, an annual project from CBC that aims to have all of English-speaking Canada read one specific book; highly recommended.
on January 23, 2013
Prior to reading Moore'e novel, I read the non-fiction account of the Ocean Ranger disaster which helped immensely. Moore immersed Helen and her family into that setting and she realistically unfolded the challenging life that resulted because of it. Moore allowed me to travel with Helen and her family through their varied challenges. Naturally Helen's challenges were central but John's, Cathy's, Lulu's and Gabrielle's had to be appreciated to understand fully the horrid effects of the Ocean Ranger disaster on one family .
On another level, this novel could be greatly appreciated by any widow who lost her partner when her children were still very young. Moore's handling of that situation was carried through well.
"...it enters the system slowly and you can become addicted. It's not an addiction, it is a craft."
On Valentine's Day 1982, the 'Ocean Ranger', an assumed-to-be unsinkable oil rig, sank during a vicious storm out in the North Atlantic. Thirty years later the tragic events of that night still resonate deeply with the affected communities of Newfoundland. Families lost fathers, brothers, sons and lovers during a night when hope and prayers for a miracle turned into despair and grief: all eighty four crew were lost, either on board or in the ice cold water. Newfoundland award winning author, Lisa Moore's 2009 novel FEBRUARY fictionalizes the deep physical and emotional shockwaves in the aftermath of the disaster by telling the story of one widow, her profound grief and the long-lasting scars on her soul while putting all her energy into bringing up her family and healing herself.
Lisa Moore's heroine, Helen, thirty at the time of the disaster, was robbed of her husband Cal, the love of her young life, the breadwinner for their young family with three small children with a fourth on the way. Much of the story is set in 2008, yet with Helen's mind often wandering back to that fateful night in 1982, the innocent years prior to the disaster and the many years since. Helen reflects on her emotional state of mind at the time as "being outside": "The best way to describe what she felt: She was banished. Banished from everyone and from herself." Still, the daily life had to go on while grief and pain were kept locked into the inner folds of her mind. "Helen wanted the children to think that she was on the inside, with them. The outside was an ugly truth that she planned to keep to herself."
The sudden loss of a loved one may not seem unique when seen from the outside; grief, however, is exclusive to each person, intimately personal and not always easy to understand for others. Moore's capacity to capture and express the individuality of Helen's grieving in a way that we as readers can relate to it in our own personal ways, speaks to the quality and thoughtfulness of her writing. In 2009, I have to admit, this was not a book that I wanted to read, given my own recent loss, but four years later, I can appreciate Helen's story and the winding and twisting process of her coming to terms with her grief and her life. FEBRUARY is in no way a sad or depressing book. Moore brings enough detail to Helen's life moving forward to keep the reader supportively engaged. Helen is surrounded by her three daughters and John, her oldest. John is a major character in the novel and we follow his growing up from the ten year-old at the time of the disaster to a young man who develops his own means to deal with loss. The image of the absent father is well developed through John's and Helen's recollections. As a result, Cal remains very much a part of the novel.
Even after many years, Helen's mind keeps returning to the night of the disaster. Not knowing what really happened in the last hours of Cal's and his mates' lives, does not let her rest. What did they know and understand of the crisis? "They all knew they weren't safe. They all knew. But they had decided not to tell anyone. But it leaked out of them in larks and pranks and smutty puns, and it leaked sometimes out in a loneliness that made phone calls from land hard to handle."
FEBRUARY is not a chronological account of Helen's efforts "to get back on her feet". Not at all. Like memories and dreams, the narration jumps timelines, joining unrelated events or triggering sudden vivid images. Moore's narrative flows from the present in 2008 to 1982, the other still vivid present, to times before and in between... Sometimes her chapter dates give you an indication where we are, often, though, she relies on the reader to figure out where Helen's mind is at that moment. And, with a bit of reading into the novel, you do. Moore has a subtle and compassionate way to convey her character's story. At times, her writing structure reminded me of a puzzle, where, unexpectedly, one small 'piece', be it somebody's gesture or the colour of the ocean on a misty night, connects several until then unconnected images and a broader perspective falls into place. Overall, this is a beautifully developed and affecting story, set in a broader context that is relevant as much today as it was then. Some of the side stories seem to be more than complementing the central story and distracted to some degree. The novel's ending may not be to everybody's liking, but these, in the end, are minor irritants. (4.5 stars) [Friederike Knabe]
on April 26, 2013
Lisa Moore: February.
It is joyful to find a book of new, young author, which is professionally written, many faceted, compassionate, ardent and truthful.
From the beginning it overpowers the reader by beautiful language and attractive characters. So, it is not true that great books are no longer written. Also, mastery and wisdom are still here.
I gave 5 points to the book, even though the ending disappointed me. Not the outcome, it was a given, but its length and repetitions. Less is sometimes more. It is obvious that the sinking of the Ocean Ranger changed the lives and influenced the fate of all the heroes, and many other people besides, the authoress notwithstanding. So many problems were overlooked, it may happen again. And like a stone thrown in the water, the aftermath is spreading, spreading in space and time.
I just think that, considering that the author said it all in the book, the ending could have been calmer.
on October 23, 2009
I find this Moore's most compelling book yet. I've loved her short stories, her voice, her compassion, wit and humour. She's a writer's writer, and her language is fully alive. This new novel is just stunning, a heart-breaker, wise and very wonderful. Why on earth didn't this receive every prize there is? Wasn't even short listed for the GG, Giller, to my knowledge. Read this book. It will make your life better.
on May 24, 2013
but I did. The main character is not so much likable as admirable, despite her harsh ways with her children, and in some ways with herself. Took me along for a good read, learned about an important if tragic Canadian event, remembered some practices from my own childhood that might make families shudder today (but we did ok ), a worthwhile read.