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Dazzle Patterns: The Books Behind the Book

"The novel is as much about art as war and the following books speak these two themes, as well as the historic Halifax explosion."

Book Cover Dazzle Patterns

A poet and non-fiction writer, Alison Watt makes a splendid debut as a novelist with Dazzle Patterns, a beautiful and vivid novel set against the backdrop of the Halifax Explosion. In this list, Watt shares the books behind the book, the works she drew on to bring her historical period to life. 


Dazzle Patterns begins in Halifax, on the day of its famous Explosion. The novel follows the stories of three people, whose lives are braided together: Clare, a flaw checker at a glass factory, Leo, her fiancé  fighting in France, and Fred, a German immigrant and master glassmaker at the factory.

Both Clare and Fred begin studies at the Victoria School of Art, under the direction of Arthur Lismer, who would go on to be a member of the Group of Seven, and found a new school of Canadian painting. Leo is captured and held behind German lines.

The novel is as much about art as war and the following books speak these two themes, as well as the historic Halifax explosion. Their riches lie among the everyday details buried in text and photos, which I could draw on to try to bring that faraway time and place to life for the modern reader.


Book Cover Victory at Vimy

Victory at Vimy: Canada Comes of Age, April 9-12 1917, by Ted Barris

This book provides details on the experiences of Canadian soldiers in WW1, through personal accounts.

Book Cover Explosion in Halifax

Explosion in Halifax Harbour: The Illustrated Account of a Disaster that Shook the World, by David B. Flemming

This book, illustrated with historical photographs, sets the scene of Halifax at the time of the explosion as well as describing the event and its aftermath.


Book Cover Group of Seven Art for a Nation

The Group of Seven: Art for a Nation, by Charles C. Hill 

A large format book, full of gorgeous plates of Group of Seven paintings, including those of Arthur Lismer.

Book Cover Shattered City

Shattered City: The Halifax Explosion and the Road to Recovery, by Janet F. Kitz

Both of the books by Janet Kitz bring the Explosion to life through personal stories and carefully annotated photos.


Book Cover Survivors

Survivors: Children of the Halifax Explosion, by Janet Kitz

Both of the books by Janet Kitz bring the Explosion to life through personal stories and carefully annotated photos.

Book Cover Barometer Rising

Barometer Rising, by Hugh MacLennan

One of the first Canadian books about the Halifax Explosion, a novel which examines the effects of the Explosion on the people of Halifax, as well as the long reach of the war unfolding overseas.

Book Cover Burden of Desire

Burden of Desire, by Robert MacNeil

A novel by a well-known Canadian journalist, a love story and a social and psychological examination of the time and place of its setting.


Book Cover A Concise History of Canadian Painting

A Concise History of Canadian Painting, by Dennis Reid

Combining visual description, anecdotes, this book tells the story of the education and careers of Canadian artists, from the 18th to late 20th century.

Book Cover Glass in Canada

Glass in Canada: The First One Hundred Years, by Gerald Stevens

An extensively illustrated guide to all types of Canadian glass, blown, cut and pressed, from the lowly drinking glass to highly refined decorative objects.

Book Cover No Man's Land

No Man's Land: The Life and Art of Mary Riter Hamilton, by Kathryn A. Young and Sarah M. McKinnon

The story of the life and work of one of Canada’s least known and most astonishing women artists. Mary Riter Hamilton studied in Europe for almost 25 years before being forced to return to Canada with the Great War. She returned to France after the war, spending several seasons painting the devastation left in its wake. 


Book Cover Dazzle Patterns

About Dazzle Patterns:

Beginning the day of the devastating Halifax Explosion of 1917, Dazzle Patterns is an unforgettable story about loss, the resilience of the human spirit, and the transformative power of art.

While Clare Holmes waits for her fiancé, Leo, to return from the war in France, she works as a flaw checker at the Halifax glassworks. It is there that she meets Fred Baker, a mysterious master glassmaker who was trained in his home country of Germany. After the disastrous explosion on December 6, 1917—which killed 2000, injured thousands more, and is said to have shattered every window in the city—Clare, Leo, and Fred's lives become irrevocably intertwined.

In the chaos and turmoil of the war and the aftermath of the explosion, Clare finds solace in drawing, but is further devastated when Leo is reported missing. Meanwhile, tensions in the community quickly rise: who was responsible for the explosion? Could there be German collaborators in their midst? When Fred is arrested, Clare is determined to find a way to prove her new friend's innocence.

Dazzle Patterns is a moving story about three people making their way through harrowing, impossible times. With extraordinary vision and clarity, Alison Watt's remarkable debut novel brings the past to life.

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