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February - Book of the Month

by Lisa Moore

On 14 February 1982, an oil rig, the Ocean Ranger, sank off the coast of Newfoundland and all 84 men on board died. Lisa Moore has allowed herself to imagine what it would have been like to be the wife of one of those men, suddenly alone with her children and her grief, and how the next twenty eight years of her life might have played out.

Helen was in her twenties and unknowingly pregnant with her fourth child when she received the phone call telling her that her beloved husband, Cal, was dead. In a cleverly crafted series of scenes, some little more than vignettes, prefaced simply by a phrase and a date, Moore interweaves Helen’s story from that time up until the events at the end of 2008 when her life is turned around again. Now, in her fifties, it is another phone call, this time from her son, John, which acts as a catalyst: a woman with whom John had a brief relationship is pregnant and he wants his mother’s advice.

It is a novel about risk – the terrible risks the rig owners took with the lives of the men onboard; the risk of sex without contraception; the risk that John faces with a woman he barely knows; and the gamble that Helen takes on a new love – and about the harsh consequences of losing the bet. The visceral cold of the Newfoundland winter, with its beauty and danger, is a fitting backdrop to the story, and Moore describes brilliantly the cruel last moments of the men on board the Ocean Ranger. But it is in her rendering of the small, seemingly inconsequential, human dealings that Moore’s real talent shines out. With infallible judgement, she pinpoints the moments that mean more than the sum of their parts and turns a spotlight on them, tenderly illuminating the irrationality of human behaviour in all its messy glory.

Moore has a wonderful gift for imaginative empathy and a clear eye for the physical and often prosaic manifestations of grief and loss. Yet the tone of the book is optimistic rather than melancholic. After nearly thirty years in cold storage, Helen’s capacity for romantic and sexual love is being risked again and the rewards of her courage in taking that chance are already becoming apparent.

Clare Chandler

Read our interview with Lisa Moore.


Carol Buchan
I am very grateful for this recommendation. February is a beautifully written and deeply moving book.

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