Second in the books I’m reading to prepare for my first visit to Nova Scotia in September. Barometer Rising is an historical novel based in 1917, the First World War as experienced from the Canadian Maritimes.
MacLennan’s first novel (he went on to become a prominent figure in Canadian letters) folds elements of the Canadian experience into a romance set in history. The reader’s experience is multiple: how Halifax embraced her key role as the UK’s major port in the West, the jumping off point for convoys heading to the war bearing munitions, arms, lumber, coal, men—all produced in Canada and extracted to support a war effort that was not Canada’s. There is the experience of a provincial city (about 60,000), influenced by the mores of immigrants from the colonial U.S., Scotland, and the U.K., all conservative. There is a touch of women’s rights, but only because of the war effort.
The focal point of Barometer Rising is the Halifax Explosion, December 6, 1917. As I was unaware of this tragedy, it pulled me right into the climax of all the characters’ development according to how they responded. It is the largest man-made explosion prior to the atom bomb. Read the book or check Wikipedia if you want the horrible details.
MacLennan did an excellent job of setting up rich characters who harbor slowly revealed secrets and set the story in a time unique to Halifax. This is an “old fashioned” historical novel. Just a soupçon of sex, lots of conflict—a well-written and easy to read book.