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3.36  ·  Rating Details ·  948 Ratings  ·  117 Reviews
From the internationally acclaimed author of The White Bone and The Romantic, a haunting and suspenseful novel of abduction and obsessive love

Nine-year-old Rachel Fox has the face of an angel, a heart-stopping luminosity that strikes all who meet her. Her single mother, Celia, working at a video store by day and a piano bar by night, is not always around to shield her daug
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published March 20th 2007 by Metropolitan Books (first published March 8th 2007)
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(showing 1-30)
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Sep 19, 2016 Guy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a disturbing book, one that once begun kept me turning the pages. It is very typically Gowdy, meaning that the protagonist is a humanized creep. And that is what marks Gowdy apart from the good writer — the ability to bring to her readers a feeling of understanding, and even some empathy, for a completely unsympathetic character. It seems anti-social to think and feel that a child abductor could be human, and not just a caricature of evil. But this is the power of Gowdy's writing.

Gowdy c
Jan 02, 2010 Kirsty rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
Wow. Gowdy sure knows how to tell a gripping story.

The book tells the story of Celia, a single mother, whose daughter Rachel is 9 years old and exceptionally beautiful. When Rachel goes missing during a blackout, Celia desperately clings to her intuition that Rachel is still alive... meanwhile, the kidnapper watches the media coverage with interest, whilst keeping Rachel in his recently-renovated basement.

The book had me hooked from page one. The story is told from many different perspectives -
Oct 03, 2007 jo rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: ... not really; read her other books
Shelves: canadian
gowdy, a marvelous author of quirky experimental fiction, takes the straight road with this story of perverted desire and misses a great chance to investigate and complicate the place where (im)morality, love, desire, sex, and need meet. this is a bland book that will make you side with the child abductor, not because he's sympathetic (besides being a pedophile, the poor bastard is bald, fat, sweaty, and an all-around sad sack), but because he's the least sickeningly normal of all the characters ...more
Feb 09, 2008 Flora rated it did not like it
Shelves: novels, not-so-much
It pleases me none to give this such a low rating, as Barbara Gowdy is one of my favorite writers. The only explanation is that this must be a case of literary identity theft -- someone wrote a bad book under her good name.
Lori Bamber
Mar 10, 2011 Lori Bamber rated it it was amazing
Barbara Gowdy achieves something remarkable in this book. In this spell-binding story, which I barely put down and was sorry to finish, she made me care deeply about a beautiful young girl, her flawed mother, a hard-bitten former addict -- and a pedophile.

The title refers to the forces that all of these characters struggle against, and illustrates the adage that, if we really know someone, we will understand them and why they do what they do. We will understand that, if we were them, we would p
Leo Robillard
Sep 23, 2011 Leo Robillard rated it it was ok
Barbara Gowdy rarely disappoints. Her novels appear on bestseller lists around the world, and she no doubt has a loyal fan base. Helpless, Gowdy’s sixth book, contains everything her readers have come to expect from her work – intelligence, sympathy, perception, and solid writing.

Helpless details the abduction of Rachel, the nine-year-old daughter of Celia Fox. The young girl – considered an uncommon beauty by everyone that meets her – becomes the object of one man’s dark obsession, which in man
May 11, 2010 Denis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What I enjoy most about Barbara Gowdy's work is her willingness to take risks, and her interest and ability in portraying misfits, the disenfranchised, and outcasts of society.

This novel's POV alternates between five characters. There's Celia, a single mother, her beautiful nine year old daughter, Rachel, their loyal and generous landlord, Mika, Ron, a nerdy man struggling with pedophilic tendencies, and Ron's quirky and naive girlfriend, Nancy.

When Gowdy published this book she was accused of e
Feb 08, 2009 Anne rated it it was amazing
I stayed awake until the early hours of this morning to finish this book, it is strangly compelling, yet very disturbing at the same time.

The recent tragic cases of child abduction gives this novel a very fresh and vivid sense of horror, it is far from an easy read and every time I put it down I had a stragne sense of almost voyeurism.

Rachel, the little girl at the centre of the story is exceptionally beautiful - her mother is bringing her up single-handedly but in almost poverty stricken condit
Jan 12, 2014 Chequer rated it it was amazing
With a depth of imagery and a remarkable knowledge of human behaviour that is unattainable for most writers, Gowdy presents us with love in various forms - parental, perverse or otherwise - and displays the intensity that can make our most earnest attempts at caring for someone devastating. She clears the darkness and lets us inside places unimaginable, whether we think we want to make the journey or not.

She has clearly done her homework, which would have been extensive and substantial, for this
Jul 08, 2015 Loraine rated it it was ok
The plot sounded good when I picked this book randomly off the library shelf. I suppose it's good enough because I finished it. BUT, i couldn't wait to get done with it so I can move on to something more pleasurable and with more substance. It just didn't feel like very deep writing or much thought put into the characters or the personalities. It felt disjointed, somehow and without substance. (Oh, I said that already.) For example, I didn't even know the story was set in Canada until 3/4 of the ...more
Oct 16, 2009 Patricia rated it really liked it
Yikes, scary portrayl of abduction where you actually feel somewhat sorry for the abductor.
Tara Carman
Oct 21, 2016 Tara Carman rated it really liked it
Creepy. Gripping. Suspenseful. A parent's worst nightmare. Overall a good read.
Jul 25, 2008 Chad rated it really liked it
Barbara Gowdy has written six novels, and each one explores extremely different subjects and characters. Helpless, Gowdy’s latest work, concerns child abduction. Helpless is an unusual love story, and Gowdy maturely analyzes different kinds of love: parental, romantic, and destructive. The novel contains a cast of complex, well-drawn characters, but Nancy, the girlfriend of Ron, a child abductor and pedophile-in-denial, emerges as the most intriguing.
Gowdy skillfully shows how Nancy’s past hist
Christopher Sword
Apr 04, 2016 Christopher Sword rated it it was amazing
Shelves: canadiana
My favourite writer, Timothy Findley was quoted as saying (or writing) that a writer's responsibility is to draw attention to the ills of society. I paraphrase the quote from memory and I have mixed feelings about the quotation itself. For Findley, it was clearly one the driving forces behind his work. Every good book should be shining a light on something negative in this world for it to be a good book but I've read some good books that are the equivalent of a candy bar - they taste good, they ...more
Oct 20, 2013 Jules rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own
Protagonistinnen sind Celia, eine alleinerziehende Mutter, und Rachel, ihre neunjährige Tochter. Celia arbeitet hart, um die beiden durchzubringen und ist eher immer etwas zu besorgt um ihre Tochter, vor allem, weil sie eben nicht immer da sein kann und weil Rachel außergewöhnlich hübsch ist. Wie gut, dass sie nicht weiß, dass Rachel schon seit einiger Zeit beobachtet wird: Ron, der sonst Elektrogeräte repariert, fährt durch die Stadt und schaut zu, was Rachel so macht. Er hat ein Auge auf sie g ...more
Nov 02, 2007 Becky rated it it was ok
"Nine-year-old Rachel Fox has the face of an angel, a heart-stopping luminosity that strikes all who meet her. Her single mother, Celia, working at a video store by day and a piano bar by night, is not always around to shield her daughter from the attention—both benign and sinister—that her beauty draws. Attention from model agencies, for example, or from Ron, a small-appliance repairman who, having seen Rachel once, is driven to see her again and again.

When a summer blackout plunges the city in
Sep 06, 2008 CynthiaA rated it it was ok
Shelves: canadian-author
I have to admit that I found the book to be disappointing. It wasn't bad, but it didn't make me feel anything. The motions in the book were quite subdued, considering the subject matter. The story is about the abduction of a little girl. The reader is gven insights into the world of the suffering mother, and that of the abductor. I guess the author's point is to make you see that there are unknown motives behind everything. I don't theing she wants the reader to "empathize" with the abductor, bu ...more
Apr 10, 2009 Louise rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
As usual, Barbara Gowdy pens another winner!

From dust jacket:

"Nine-year-old Rachel Fox has the face of an angel, a heart-stopping luminosity that strikes all who meet her. Her single mother, Celia, working at a video store by day and a piano bar by night, is always around to shield her daughter from the attention-both benign and sinister-her beauty draws. From modelling agencies, for example, or from Ron, a small-appliance repairman who, having seen Rachel once, is driven to see her again and ag
Kris - My Novelesque Life

"Nine-year-old Rachel Fox has the face of an angel, a heart-stopping luminosity that strikes all who meet her. Her single mother, Celia, working at a video store by day and a piano bar by night, is not always around to shield her daughter from the attention—both benign and sinister—that her beauty draws. Attention from model agencies, for example, or from Ron, a small-appliance repairman who, having seen Rachel once, is driven to see her again and again.
When a summer blackout plunges th
Dec 11, 2011 Sheila rated it it was amazing
I love books that take you into someone's heart and mind, and Barbara Gowdy's Helpless does just that, and does it well. She has a genius for creating characters who deviate from the norm, and doing it in such a way that we can understand them, even if we can't help judging them for their worst behaviours. Often, she shows such compassionate insight into human nature that she succeeds in getting us to withhold judgement, too.
I find the characters in Helpless intrinsically interesting, as I often
Katie Kenig
Apr 08, 2013 Katie Kenig rated it liked it
Shelves: general-fiction
After having finished this book last night before bed, I'm still not sure how I feel about it.

Helpless is a novel about child abduction. It tells the tale from the inside, from the helpless to solve the mystery mother's point of view, from the helpless because she's locked in a basement child's and from the helpless to control himself/helpless in the face of loving a man abductors.

I think the book was trying to throw a wedge of sympathy into my heart for the abductors, but every time I started t
Christine Jones
Mar 13, 2016 Christine Jones rated it it was ok
I have never previously read anything by this author and had no expectations when I picked up this book. It looked interesting from the book jacket which basically describes the story of an abduction of a nine year old girl and the feelings of helplessness shared by different characters in the story.

This book was not terribly written, nor was it a bad story. However, I felt like I started an interesting tale (parallel tales actually) that in some ways could have gone so far and didn't.

To me this
One of those strange books where you never really know which character you side with, at some points I found all the characters incredibly frustrating and at others terribly sorry for one or the other.

The writing style is very engaging and the story an interesting one but I felt rather letdown when I got to the end.

One of my main issues is that it was as if the writer suddenly realised she needed to end the book, the last few pages felt incredibly rushed in relation to the detail present in the
Maria Meneses
May 09, 2016 Maria Meneses rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Shonna Froebel
Dec 18, 2012 Shonna Froebel rated it liked it
Shelves: canadian
The storyline here is interesting. A young, pretty girl, Rachel, is abducted from her yard one evening by a man, Ron, who has been attracted by her beauty, and subsequently convinces himself that she is being abused by the adults in her life. Ron involves his girlfriend Nancy in looking after the girl in the well-appointed room he has built for her in his basement. Nancy, presented with this situation by the man she loves protects the girl while remaining loyal to Ron, but struggles with her own ...more
Mar 20, 2008 Kyla rated it really liked it
Barbara Gowdy is like a female Canadian Michael Haneke - only a writer not a filmmaker. I always look forward to her books -she has this cool detachment that allows her to talk about seemingly squishy subjects (like the interior lives of elephants in The White Bone) or beauty and child molestation in her latest, Helpless. I gather some reviewers didn't appreciate the subject matter (abduction, child beauty) but I turned the pages like a thriller. One of the few books that could have been longer, ...more
Paula Dembeck
Jul 21, 2013 Paula Dembeck rated it it was amazing
Nine year old Rachel Fox is the beautiful biracial child of a single mother, the result of a quick one night stand. Her mother Celia works in a video store by day and a piano bar at night. Rachel’s beauty has caught the eye of Ron, a small appliance repair man who captures her during the Toronto electricity blackout and imprisons her in a lovely small basement apartment. He is helped in this, by Nancy once a drug addict who wavers between her loyalty to Ron and her feelings toward the mother.
Aug 30, 2009 Erin rated it really liked it
Shelves: adultfiction
In a small town in Canada, nine-year-old Rachel Fox walks down the basement stairs with her mother's landlord, Mika, in search of flashlights. Mika trips and falls down the stairs, and Rachel runs to find help during the power outage...and in mere seconds, her life - and the life of her mother - is changed forever when Rachel is taken from her home.

The search for Rachel begins...but as few clues surface, save for a mysterious phone call from a woman claiming to have her daughter, her mother lose
J. E.  Hewitt
Aug 01, 2014 J. E. Hewitt rated it really liked it
Great read. Well, I listened to it on CD, but still great. Barbara Gowdy is known for presenting unusual, lesser portrayed points of view and she nailed this one, I thought. The story is about a child abduction, and we hear the story from the point of view of each party, the abductor, his girlfriend who gets involved, the child, the mother. The most interesting part, handled well, is how she gets us inside the head of a pedophile and shows what the heck they might be thinking and why. Very inter ...more
Danielle Wilson
Apr 10, 2012 Danielle Wilson rated it liked it
A story about a pedophile in denial kidnapping a beautiful little girl. That's the story in a nutshell. It's not a story about a little girl surviving a kidnapping. It's not about her mother. It's about the pedophile.

I thought it was an OK story. The author skates along the will he/won't he border when it comes to actual molestation... and when it comes to whether he will realize that what he's done is wrong.

It was definitely a quick read that didn't require too much thinking on my part.
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Barbara Gowdy is a Canadian novelist and short story writer. Born in Windsor, Ontario, she is the long-time partner of poet Christopher Dewdney and resides in Toronto.
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