Saturday, June 4, 2011


Halifax Harbour at night is a beautiful sight, and June often finds the MacDonald Bridge lined with lovers and other appreciators. But in Halifax even June can turn on one icy claw.” -- Spider Robinson’s Mindkiller.

So begins my first adventure in reading a novel with Halifax as the setting, and a science fiction novel to boot! At the time I read this novel I was familiar with Spider and Jeanne through friends of theirs. For those who do not know the Robinsons lived and worked in Halifax for over a decade. It was so interesting to look out my apartment window on Brunswick Street at the bridge while reading this. Published in 1982, it was originally set in the late 1980's but re-edited in a later edition to begin in 2006. I am unsure if that date will change once again in future editions. It will be interesting to see.

Spider envisions a world that you literally plug into. But at what cost? What happens to society when technology manipulates the brain to give you a “high”? What is real or what isn’t? Who is in control of the power source and what can they give or take from your memory? Will addicts forgo everything physical, including eating, just for that mind jolt? What is ethical in the long run? Definitely a science fiction mystery to solve.

The next book that I read with Halifax as the setting was Barometer Rising by Hugh Maclennan. Truthfully, I was prejudiced against Nova Scotian literature since being forced to read The Mountain and the Valley by Ernest Buckler in Grade 10. Barometer Rising is also taught in schools, but hopefully with better results.

I am not sure why I picked up Barometer Rising. Maybe because I had become more familiar with Halifax at that time. Taking place during eight days in December, 1917; MacLennan does a wonderful job in describing the city during this era. Halifax during war is a city under siege in a way. Ordinary citizens are under the influence of the comings and goings of military troops. The story of Penny and Neil took second place in my mind as I became more and more interested in the explosive ending. Halifax and Canada itself changed due to the Halifax Explosion. Maclennan is successful in leading the reader back in time.

Beginning in Depression era Halifax and continuing through WWII to the present day, These Four Walls by Susan Cameron takes us on a very personal history of the Morash sisters. Rose, Violet and Lily were made orphans after their middle class parents died. Being placed in a crowded orphanage colored their outlook on life, especially the main character Rose. We follow her life from the age of 11 until her death. The secrets of the family drive a wedge between each of the sisters and in turn their children. The reason why is only discovered after Rose’s death and I did not see it coming. As I was reading this novel I could picture each of the locations and that added to the novel for me. It may do the same for you.

Since I seem to be blogging about these novels according to era, let me tell you about Reparations by Stephen Kimber. Africville, past and present, is the central theme to this court room thriller. Kimber shows us both sides of Halifax; the poverty of the North End and the riches of the South End. Boyhood friends, one white and one black, find their childhood history coming to play in their present dealings. Ward Justice grows up to become a politician and provincial court judge. His boyhood friend, Raymond Carter, becomes a black activist who changes his name to Uhuru Melesse and later becomes a lawyer. More than 25 years after they fell in love with the same woman they have to meet each other in court. The worlds of black and white, North and South play out on these Halifax pages.

The next two books are sent in present day but they are two very different novels. Italics, Mine by Charles Crosby is not for everyone. I know that you are not supposed to judge a book by its cover but how can you not with this novel! This novel was short-listed for the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award. You never know what dark secrets a person has and this novel sets out to prove it. Ellen Rowan throws obsessive compulsive Andrew Kieran’s world for a loop. For those people who think Halifax is a quiet back-water city this novel will open their eyes!

The other book is Shoot Me by Lesley Crewe. This gentle read is perfect for those of us in the sandwich generation; those that still have kids and are now having to care for older relatives. According to her psychology student daughter, Elsie Brooks, is one such person. She is an enabler who mothers everyone and is negligent to herself. When Crazy Aunt Hildy arrives on her doorsteps Elsie takes her in. When Hildy states there is a hidden treasure in the house, the already crazy atmosphere of the house gets even more frenzied.

There are many more books written with Halifax as the setting. I am ashamed to say I have not read any of the Thomas Raddall novels, such as the famous Halifax, Warden of the North. Perhaps a reader can give me a comment on it and his other works. In the mean time, please enjoy the above suggestions.

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