Book Review: February by Lisa Moore

FROM THE PUBLISHER’S WEBSITE: “In 1982, the oil rig Ocean Ranger sank off the coast of Newfoundland during a Valentine’s Day storm. All eighty-four men aboard died. February is the story of Helen O’Mara, one of those left behind when her husband, Cal, drowns on the rig. It begins in the present-day, more than twenty-five years later, but spirals back again and again to the “February” that persists in Helen’s mind and heart.”

Representing the Atlantic region, February (Lisa Moore’s second novel) will be defended by Trent McClellan during Canada Reads 2013. Visit the Canada Reads website for details on how to watch or listen to the Turf Wars debates from February 11 – 14.

I was so impressed with the way Moore used the book’s structure and prose to convey grief and grieving. The stream-of-consciousness sentence structure, overwhelming and random details of daily life, and chopped up scenes brilliantly conveyed how Cal’s tragic (needless?) death aboard the Ocean Ranger left Helen struggling to cope with the smallest things.

BUT this is also the thing I really disliked about February. After 70 pages or so it seemed like so much noise to me. I struggled to reconcile how realistic, practical and strong Helen was in the first flashback to 1982 with how she was so often adrift over the next 25 years. I’m referring to when Helen walked out of the church because she knew her husband Cal was dead and she walked out thinking: “Some of those people were full of hope. Insane with it, and the lore is that hope can bring lost sailors home. That’s the lore. Hope can raise the dead if you have enough of it.”

Other comments:

  • I admired how Louise was so fiercely protective of Helen, such as when she told off the truck driver impatiently honking his horn. And I also admired the way Louise stayed loyal and present in Helen’s life over the years. I expect it would have been easier for Louise to think along the lines that Helen was getting over Cal’s death, or at least adjusting to it, and to back off. Instead, she stayed close and involved, even when it wasn’t convenient (such as when she went on vacation with Helen). And Louise’s daughter recommended Barry (the contractor) to Helen, which was instrumental in how things turned out.
  • I thought Jane and John’s relationship was an important thread. The fact that John didn’t know about his child until shortly it was born was a poignant contrast to the fact that Cal was killed shortly after John was conceived (and that John and Cal never had the chance to know each other).
  • I was so happy for Helen when her relationship with Barry evolved beyond that of homeowner / contractor, to something that holds the promise of some version of happiness for Helen. She deserves that.
  • Finally, as Moore shared bits and pieces of what Helen learned about the sinking of the Ocean Ranger, I experienced a wide range of negative emotions – outrage, sadness, frustration, disbelief. So it was all the more shocking to learn (via John’s revelations about the safety measures and working conditions and employment positions he encountered during his career in oil & gas) that we maybe didn’t learn everything we should / could have from the Ocean Ranger disaster. The way John tells it, efficiency trumps safety – probably more often than we’d like to think.

Despite the constantly shifting timeline and characters, I had no trouble envisioning the settings – especially the frigid ocean as the drilling platform went down. Moore did a wonderful job evoking the Canadian landscape and this is something all of the Canada Reads 2013 finalists have in common. I look forward to hearing the celebrity debaters next week as they share their views on character, setting, themes and story lines. How about you?

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars with the loss of one star for the “noise” factor.

RECOMMENDED: For anyone with an interest in recent Canadian history, the oil and gas industry, or a well-crafted tale of loss and survival.

3 stars – The Age of Hope
4 stars – February & Away
4.5 stars – Two Solitudes
5 stars – Indian Horse

For me, February and Away are in the middle of the pack. I’d really like to see Indian Horse win it all, but if it’s eliminated early because too many people find some of the events too uncomfortable or dark, then I hope Two Solitudes makes it through to the end.

I’d like to thank CBC Canada Reads for the opportunity to read and review all of the 2013 contenders. And you might be interested to know that I’ve already loaned the review copies to some of my neighbours!

FINALLY, for those of you who tuned in because of the usual geocaching, hiking, biking, and photography content, thanks for sticking it out through the run up to Canada Reads 2013. Be assured that more typical content will be back early next week.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: February by Lisa Moore

  1. Everyone in our book club has a good, healthy sense of humour. Below, is our rating system:

    10. Absolutely loved this book cover-to-cover and will share it with many people and probably read it twice.
    9. Will share it with other readers but it won’t go on my absolute favourites list. Really liked the plot and connected with the characters.
    8. Hmm…liked it, but the plot (or characters) left me wanting a wee bit more.
    7. Didn’t mind it. An okay story with interesting characters.
    6. I’ll keep this book on my shelf.
    5. Sorta ho-hum.
    4. I read this because I had to, but not overly excited about it.
    3. Didn’t really engage with any of the characters. Won’t be memorable.
    2. The book review was completely wrong. Garage sale material. A great buy at .25 cents.
    1. Stab out my eyes with a fork.

    1. Love it! I’ll definitely share this with the other women in my neighbourhood book club. Should kick off a fun discussion as we select our next set of books to read.

  2. I enjoyed your review! My book club also read February and had some interesting responses to it. We rated the book 3.5 out of 10. Only one of our members connected with Helen. The rest of us were just confused… 🙂

    1. My book club only discusses the books we read – we never rate them. I think I’ll suggest that as an addition to our monthly meetings when we start up again in the fall.

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