I read somewhere that as a writer you should never give up the backstory of your character in the first few pages of the book because an interested reader doesn’t need to know it upfront. Part of the experience is taking the journey with the character and discovering. Lisa Moore does a good job of following this in February. As the story unfolds, we are given a glimpse into the life of Helen O’Mara – a fifty six year old widow and mother of four – who has spent the last 25 years of her life coping with the drowning of her husband in the Ocean Ranger oil rig disaster, using the best way she knows how: by avoidance. But it is obvious that Cal is far from her daily thoughts, constantly seeping into her subconscious.There is a bit of oversentimentality in Moore’s writing. It takes a bit of back and forth, and half of the pages in the novel to realize that this is not a plot-driven story. Perhaps Richard Wagamese’s captivating Indian Horse was still dominant in my mind as I plunged into reading my next Canada Reads book February. However, once I realized the differentiating style of writing, I was able to appreciate how beautifully Moore takes us through Helen’s life in a backwards and forwards symbolic journey that makes it more impactful than if it had flowed linearly in a chronological manner. You can’t help but be thrust into the novel and engaged in the character.It is intriguing how effortlessly Lisa Moore helps us to get into Helen’s mind with constant snippets of information about what she’s thinking, how she’s feeling, and the ghosts of her past she’s trying to forget, and remember at the same time. The tie in to the real sinking of the Ocean Ranger off the coast of Newfoundland in the 1980s is brilliantly done, with well-scripted writing highlighting the business of oil and the safety protocols employed by these companies. You can help but feel a bit angered as they talk about acceptable levels of risk and ask the public to consider the overall good to be achieved. At the end of the day, all they really care about is profit. “There is a culture of safety…that was detrimental to efficiency. That’s what we wanted to trim.”
“Water has a single imperative. Every drop is hurling itself towards itself always. All water wants is to eat out its own stomach. It flushes through itself and becomes heavier and faster and it plows on, even when remaining still.”
“No man would ever survive the North Atlantic for more than five minutes without a
survival suit that fit probably, even if he could swim. And the chances of surviving a
helicopter crash, even with the suit, were next to nothing. Every man knew that. They
all knew. But each man ever to set foot on an oil rig had to kick his way out of a
simulated helicopter crash if he wanted to keep his job.”
What would have been nice to see in February is more character development of Helen’s three daughters in the book. We get a brief mention of their names and the trouble they get into during their adolescent years. But Helen doesn’t seem to bat an eye towards their teenage rebellions, occasionally even playing up the notion in her head that she thinks she has a good relationship with her daughters because she is always honest with them. But that’s where it ends. We are eager to know a bit more about them, how they came to terms with their father’s death, and of their relationship with their mother. We need a bit of convincing to understand this “close-knit” family. Nonetheless, Helen’s son John has a significant part as the secondary character in February, and we do get to see him grow up in the shadow of his mother’s grief.