February by Lisa Moore (House of Anansi Press 2010)
On 15th February 1982 an offshore rig, the Ocean Ranger, whilst drilling an exploration well off the east coast of Newfoundland, sank in bad weather killing all 84 crew aboard. Their mayday call was picked up by the back-up vessel the Seaforth Highlander who were ill-prepared to deal with a rescue in such weather conditions and in the end they were left to watch the crew in the water succumb to hypothermia and drown.
In February 1982 Cal, the husband of Helen the main and unlikely protagonist of the novel, is aboard the Ocean Ranger. Helen has three children and is pregnant with a fourth at the time of the accident and as the story bounces backwards and forwards in time one soon grasps that there are three narrative threads in play. The first is of Helen's grief, contemporaneous with the accident and in the decades that follow. How she has to raise four children by herself and how she tries to learn every little detail about the sinking of the rig; she likes to imagine Cal playing cards when the Ocean Ranger goes down, she doesn't like to think of him knowing too long before and have to suffer the panic. Helen is also persuaded by her sister to renovate her house and the stirring of her physical and emotional desires by the continuing presence of Barry, Helen's carpenter forms the second thread.
Finally her son John followed Cal's footsteps into the oil industry first by working in the pipelines looking for weaknesses that could lead to leaks. John soon moves into a job as an advisor to the industry whose main role is to increase efficiency by making recommendations to discard unnecessary or redundant safety procedures, many of which came into force following the sinking of the Ocean Ranger. John's work requires a substantial amount of international travel and on a work trip in Iceland he meets and unknowingly impregnates a fellow Canadian traveller bringing up questions of whether he wants to inflict the effect of an absent father onto another generation.
As you can imagine of a work where grief takes centre stage, this is a very sad book and it makes you fear ever having to be in the situation of losing such a close loved one so well before their rightful time. There are moments of comic relief as middle-aged spread meets Yoga head-on but the over-arching spirit of the book is sombre and introspective. It is undoubtedly well-written as Moore brilliantly examines the nuances of love and loss. Having said that, I don't see February making it through to the Booker shortlist and whilst these may be tired criticisms of Moore, February is perhaps a little too feminine and a little too Canadian to have a wide enough appeal that the Booker usually requires.
I don't think I was the target audience for this one.