Barometer Rising by Hugh MacLennan (Ibis3's CanLit 101 Book#1)

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I'm only on the second chapter, so please no spoilers. :)

Initial comments: I wish I had been to Halifax. I'd love to be able to picture the harbour and the city.
I'm really enjoying the development of the characters.
There is quite a bit of self-conscious narrative or philosophising--putting things in the perspective of a larger picture. This might be considered undesirable in more current fiction, but it seems in step with fiction written at the time of the story's setting. I recently finished Mrs Dalloway which deals with many of the same issues (effects of WWI on society and individuals, British Empire, etc.)
The choice of Penelope as the heroine's name was certainly no coincidence. There's definitely an Odyssey allusion here, as Neil comes back from a war incognito, with everyone thinking him dead and another suitor plying for Penny's affections...

ETA: I just put this in the other thread, but for those who aren't or are no longer following it, I've created a blog for this project at


or who have knowledge about the status and behaviour of women in or around 1917...

It seems that the women in the book are remarkably more modern than I would have expected--more like they might have been in '41 when MacLennan was writing. Penny studied marine engineering in Montreal and is working as a ship designer (though a few men around her seem to think this isn't such a good thing, it doesn't seem as scandalous as I would have thought). Wain's young secretary is living by herself, having moved to the city to get a job. There is a female tram conductor, etc. Would this have been normal during WWI?



I am a bit surprised about the ship designer, but not about the others.

edited to add that in most cases these women were subsequently forced out of those jobs to make way for returning soldiers.


Thanks for the links! I'd kind of forgotten about the connection between women being employed in previously male dominated industries during the war and the attainment of suffrage.


This was quite a good book. The description of the effects of the Halifax Explosion was phenomenal. It put one right there. Of course, I couldn't help but compare it to more recent disasters (9/11, Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina). MacLennan really captured that sense of everything being normal one moment, without a hint of anticipation, and the next moment the destruction of normalcy. It also did a good job of taking a portrait of the country in minature at the time when we were pivoting towards the future.

I ended up reading from the beginning of Thursday right to the end of the book--what compelling reading.

Some people have shown an interest for a ring for this book, so I'll see if I can get one started.


I'm really glad you enjoyed the book,Ibis. I would have loved to have time to re-read it at the same time as you were reading it but between the Bleak House and Narnia read-alongs...

Anyway I hope to re-read it soon and will keep an eye out for your other CanLit reads. If you ever have a chance to visit Halifax the Maritime Museum has a fascinating exhibit on the 1917 explosion.


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