Garet's Reviews > February

February by Lisa Moore
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's review
Jan 07, 2012

did not like it
bookshelves: read-for-book-club, canadians
Read from January 07 to 08, 2012

February centres on a real-life tragedy, the 1982 sinking of the oil rig Ocean Ranger off the coast of Newfoundland. The Ocean Ranger went down overnight during a winter storm and all 84 men on board perished. In her novel, Lisa Moore imagines the life of Helen, just thirty years old and pregnant with her fourth child when her husband Cal dies in the accident.

I wasn't looking forward to grieving for a husband and father along with Helen and her four children. I envisioned tears. The fact that I wasn't swept away by the emotional currents but rather was able to keep myself on a critical, intellectual plane was rather unexpected. And I'm not certain whether the credit – or the blame – should be laid at my door or at Moore's.

The promotional copy on the back of the jacket says that "starting in the present" – November 2008 – the narrative "spirals again and again to the 'February' that persists in Helen's mind and heart." The operative word here is spiral and the operative phrase, again and again. It's not just the narrative arc that returns over and over to that pivotal event, it's the narrative itself that circles in on itself, in sections that return again and again to the exact same phrase.

I initially thought that this narrative style was intended to reflect Helen's psychological state, to show how her mind circles and circles around the moment of Cal's death, never settling, never facing it directly, fixating on peripheral details as a means of avoiding the aching emptiness. I could have understood, even respected that. But when the same pattern occurred in sections that weren't from Helen's perspective and had nothing to do with Cal's death, I lost patience. Perhaps Moore started out using circularity and repetition to mirror Helen's thought processes but the stylistic device seems to have gotten away from her and hijacked the novel.

I would happily have given up much of the repetition for more storytelling or more insight into the characters. Moore focusses on Helen, on John, her eldest child and only son, and on Jane, the woman whom John has unintentionally impregnated. I admired Helen – she soldiers on, she raises four children on her own – but she wasn't terribly interesting to me and her marriage to Cal seemed a little too good to be true. John's memories, on the other hand, were remarkable solely for their avoidance of his father's death, while Jane herself seemed not so much a character as a device to force John to face his fears of fatherhood and a vehicle for Moore to write about, of all things, homelessness, which was the topic of Jane's MA thesis.

The other members of the family – Cal's parents, Don and Meg, Helen and Cal's daughters Cathy, Lulu, and Gabrielle, and Helen's sister, Louise – are seen primarily through Helen's memories. Don and Meg are kind, Louise is protective, Cathy and Lulu dutiful, and Gabrielle largely absent. If Cathy and Lulu grieve for the father they lost or Gabrielle for the one she never knew, Helen doesn't mention it. Perhaps she was so consumed by her own grief that she didn't notice – or couldn't care.

Early on in the novel, immediately after Cal's death, Helen feels "outside" – her life is going on and she is going through the motions, but she is "outside". Whether it was Moore's intention or my own reluctance to engage, I felt "outside" while reading February, despite the intimacy with Helen's memories and her relentless imagining of her husband's death.

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