Hugh MacLennan's first novel is a compelling romance set against the horrors of wartime and the catastrophic Halifax Explosion of December 6, 1917, now available as a Penguin Modern Classic.
In the winter of 1917, Penelope Wain is convinced her love, Neil Macrae, is dead--killed in action while serving overseas. That he apparently died in disgrace does not alter her love for the soldier who, unbeknownst to her, has returned to Halifax to clear his name, only days before a catastrophic explosion in the Harbour will forever change their lives.
About the author
Born in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, Hugh MacLennan (1907-1990) taught at McGill University from 1951 to 1981 and wrote novels and essays that helped define Canadian literature. His novels include Barometer Rising (1941), Two Solitudes (1945), Each Man's Son (1951), The Watch That Ends the Night (1959), Return of the Sphinx (1967), and Voices in Time (1980). He also published several nonfiction works, including Cross Country (1949), Thirty and Three (1955), The Scotchman’s Return and Other Essays (1960), and The Colour of Canada (1967).
Excerpt: Barometer Rising: Penguin Modern Classics Edition (by (author) Hugh MacLennan)
Penny felt her heart beginning to labour. Of course, if Neil were alive and in disgrace he would be a deserter and would not dare wear a uniform…. Penny breathed deeply. Surely if Neil were in Halifax she would have heard from him. She could not endure the thought that he was alive anywhere and had not come to her.
Then the withering feeling returned as she remembered her father and the things people had whispered about Neil Macrae for the past two years. She remembered Murray’s unwillingness to talk and the sudden embarrassment of Billy Andrews only half an hour ago. But Angus, at least, would have told her if Neil was alive. He could never have brought himself to lie about a thing like that. She had been so sure of his sincerity that his answers had finally dispelled any lingering hope that Neil might still be living, in spite of everything.
The tram stopped at the foot of her street and she got off and began to climb the hill. It was silent and cold and empty on this street where she had lived all her life. The air cooled her brain and slowed her thoughts and her heart to a normal pace. As she began to calculate the situation she thanked God for this gift which never failed her, this merciful power within herself that enabled her to spill cold water over her brain and make it lucid in moments of crisis.
She moved slowly up the hill under the bare branches of the trees until she reached the red house at the crest….
She looked at the front door. That heavy rectangle of oak weighted with its brass knocker was a symbol. Her family had shut her in from the world when she was young; it had shut her out from itself when she had ceased being a child. Her body straightened, became erect and rigid, as though to counteract the trembling sensation in her spine which now was spreading to her hands, her knees, and her shoulders.
In that instant she knew unmistakably that Neil Macrae was alive and that she had seen him. She realized this beyond the power of any logic to confute it. Her eyes were trained to recognize what was placed before them; they had often tried to fool her, but after sober consideration, they had never cheated her in her whole life.
The quivering in her limbs subsided. She drew a deep breath of damp air, and slipped her hands into the pockets of her coat. And then she felt saturated with anger and cold determination. No one had ever had the kindness to give her an honest account of what had happened to Neil that day or night in Flanders when they hinted that his cowardice had ruined her father’s career in the army. The family had whispered their obscure remarks, and after Jean’s birth she had been too shaken and apprehensive to ask many questions. But Neil was alive now and she knew it. He was back in Halifax, and not all the coldness and pride of her father could keep her from compelling him to answer her questions tonight. She closed the door loudly behind her as she entered the house.