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After Helen

3.36  ·  Rating details ·  73 ratings  ·  22 reviews
From international Lit-Idol winner and critically-acclaimed author Paul Cavanagh, this novel tells the story of Irving, an unassuming history teacher grieving the recent death of his larger-than-life wife, Helen, whom he first met during a chance encounter at her father's bookstore. Their teenage daughter, Severn - angry at Irving, angry at Helen - has disappeared after st ...more
Paperback, International edition (outside Canada), 292 pages
Published November 20th 2014 by Not That London Publisher (first published January 26th 2006)
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Average rating 3.36  · 
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 ·  73 ratings  ·  22 reviews

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Margarita Ibbott
Sep 02, 2014 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book very much. I think the fact that it was placed in London Ontario made it familiar. Also the trips to Toronto was great. I would recommend this book to anyone that wants to read about the complexities of a relationship. The give and take that is needed to make a marriage work. I certainly had a love/hate relationship to Helen the antagonist. I could not believe how she treated Irving, yet, I was not surprised by some of her actions. At times, I wanted to throttle Irving for be ...more
Mary Greiner
Jul 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
I can see why this debut novel was chosen to win an award. The characters are richly drawn, from curmudgeon to rebellious teen, from selfless and insecure to totally selfish and insecure.
If you love books and quirky independent bookstores as much as I do, you will certainly enjoy the setting of this story. People in all their glorious humanness.
Sheila Warnock
Nov 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Paul Cavanagh’s “After Helen” was a wonderful read. In two days I zoomed through
this novel that, much like a film, drew me in through the complex personalities and
relationships of the seemingly everyday characters. I was driven from page to page
by my curiosity to learn how each would resolve his or her history with the elusive Helen.
Sep 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Highly recommended! This book is a fabulous read! Remarkably warm, inviting and entertaining. Very difficult to put down!
Nov 12, 2019 rated it it was ok
Another story about a very unlikeable, selfish and hurtful woman. A quote from Helen to Irving "why you've stuck with me I'll never understand". Neither did I. ...more
Peter B
Aug 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Definitely a novel built around relationship. Irving (the history teacher) Helen (his lover and eventually his wife) Severn (the teenage daughter) Jack Livingston (an author with whom Helen runs away, returns, and then maintains a relationship) Walter (Helen’s father) and Will (the main help at the book store who is also Severn’s father) are all intermingled in a frustratingly believable story. Helen has had many short term relationships prior to Irving, most of them with well-to-do and apparent ...more
May 27, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For a first novel, I thought Paul Cavanagh did an outstanding job. His skill at putting to words the very complex feelings of a man who's life is in turmoil. I felt as if I was prying into the lives of Irving, Helen, Will, Severn and old man Walter. Even characters on the fringes of the story, Livingston and Marla were portrayed with care. His prose was so real, so current, the common vernacular. Well done and well worth reading. ...more
Wendy Hill
Jun 17, 2022 rated it liked it
Another Canadian book. Wasn't sure if I would enjoy it but it was really good. I wanted to smack the female character for being so selfish and I felt like I knew her. Takes place in Ontario which again is interesting as I live here. ...more
Mindy Gough
May 27, 2022 rated it really liked it
A good Canadian read, set in London Ontario. The story took a different direction to what I was expecting, which is usually a good sign : ) Well drawn characters and believable, compelling plot.
Mar 19, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: canadiana
Buy futures.

A novel-length short story of events tracing a romance between Irving, a moderately disgusting dominant woman, and Helen, a wearisomely pathetic submissive man, spiced up with a stereotypically obnoxious teen; set in late 20thC London ON. Other characters, some attractive/interesting (Marla), were not deeply developed beyond their plot roles.

The successfulness of the novel as a coherent piece of work with stimulating writerly values exceeded my expectations of this first time author.
Dec 01, 2014 rated it liked it
Irving's wife Helen died of cancer and he is trying his best to carry on with his life. Continuing to work, caring for his daughter Severn whilst coping with a grief that is all consuming.

Severn is angry. She is angry that Helen is dead, she blames Irving, she blames Helen and she's disappeared. Irving and Marla set off on a road trip to Toronto to try to find Severn and her unsuitable boyfriend Avery (Marla's son), to try to work out just why Severn has taken off like this.

The story of Irving a
Mar 22, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Very interesting story!! From cover:

"I realized long ago that I'd been searching for a Helen who never truly existed. And yet now that she was gone, I was tempted to hold on to the shining idea of her, to offer her up as some kind of tragic hero, to defend her memory at all costs...

Irving's wife, Helen, passed away over a year ago, but her presence is still very much felt by those she left behind. From the moment he met the red-headed force of nature that was Helen Donnelly, in a chance encounte
Sep 12, 2015 rated it liked it
This book was recommended to me because the plot takes place in London, ON (where I happen to live). Aside from location I knew nothing about this novel. First things first, the title is a little bit deceiving given that the plot jumps from "before Helen" to "after Helen" between chapters so that the title accurately describes only half of the novel. It also didn't help that I grew to really REALLY dislike the character of Helen (her narcissist and juvenile values, personality and behavior left ...more
Jul 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Paul Cavanagh was London first Lit Idol winner at the London International Book Fair in the UK, and his debut novel After Helen was the novel that helped him win in the UK.

This novel focuses on a man named Irving Cruickshank who is mourning the loss of his wife Helen, and is left to raise his rebellious teenage daughter Severn. Irving teaches history at a local high school, and is surrounded by teenage students everyday, yet he cannot seem to figure out his own daughter. Severn is left feeling a
Apr 15, 2015 rated it it was ok
The book did not live up to the hype of it's cover quotes. First of all, Helen was totally unlikeable alive and dead, she wasn't wild or enchanting or mischievous as implied, she was self- absorbed and selfish. And Irving wasn't just "unassuming", he was dominated by and , in a sense, abused by Helen. The "trail of clues" he followed was a trail of the obvious. And the "twist" that was revealed near the end was just silly and unnecessary. Just not very original in my opinion, though the inclusio ...more
Jan 16, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I read this one in the summer so I'm going off of memory for this review.

I love the idea of this book. I enjoyed the idea of the main character loving to read and wanting to write. I loved the man of this book too because I found him to be very interesting for the most part.

But I didn't love the sex scenes. I could have done without all of those. I felt like it was too much.

At times I found the characters hard to deal with, but I know that I won't love every character out there.

This book just
chambejd / Joy
I really didn't care for this book. It wasn't the writing that I didn't like but the characters. Helen was incredibly selfish person and Irving's idolizing her made me sick. She treated Irving horribly and he just put up with it. Ugh. I really wasn't interested in the whole Artic story either. ...more
Mar 25, 2015 rated it liked it
A bereft husband, a distant and antagonistic 16 year old daughter, both locked in their own grief for Helen the wife and mother. But all is not what it seems, Helen has been a pretty awful mother and wife and the book is the back story to where we begin.

Shonna Froebel
Helen sounds self-centred and unpleasant.
Even though the speaker seems used by her, he also seems to have yearnings.
Jul 25, 2015 rated it liked it
enjoyed even though i thoroughly hated helen
Alaina Maxam
Sep 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
I picked this up while on vacation in Toronto. It was another way to see a bit of my surroundings.

There were a few inconsistencies, but the story was interesting.
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Apr 14, 2009
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Jul 06, 2012
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Jul 24, 2013
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Mar 15, 2020
Rebecca Faber
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Jul 14, 2014
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Paul Cavanagh burst onto the international literary scene when he was crowned the world’s first Lit Idol at the London International Book Fair in the UK. The novel that won him the title, After Helen, was published by HarperCollinsCanada to glowing reviews. His deft touch for creating compelling characters comes in no small part from working for some 30 years in health care. He developed his liter ...more

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