Barometer Rising

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Barometer Rising
First edition (US)
Author Hugh MacLennan
Country Canada
Language English
Genre Historical, romance
Publisher Duell, Sloan & Pearce
Publication date
Pages 336
ISBN 978-0771034893

Barometer Rising is a Canadian novel by Hugh MacLennan. The story takes place in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and focuses on the effects of the Halifax explosion and a romance plot in the backdrop of World War I. It is banned in most Canadian high school libraries because of the vulgarity of language.

Plot summary[edit]

Set against the horrors of wartime and the catastrophic Halifax Explosion of December 6, 1917, Penelope Wain believes that her lover and cousin, Neil Macrae, has been killed while serving overseas under her father, Geoffrey Wain. That he died apparently in disgrace does not alter her love for him, even though her father is insistent on his guilt. What neither Penelope or her father knows is that Neil is not dead, but has returned to Halifax to clear his name. Neil is determined to find Alec MacKenzie, the only other survivor of their unit who can confirm that Geoffrey, the commanding officer of their unit, had given an impossible contradictory order. When the order could not be fulfilled and the attack ended in disaster, Geoffrey attempted to blame Neil in hopes of retaining his position in the military, but failed when Neil was believed to have died and was forced to return to Canada in a lesser position as a transportation officer.

In Halifax, the war has given Penny the opportunity to become a successful ship-designer, despite the perception she is encroaching on a man's field. Despite still loving Neil, she strikes up a friendship with Angus Murray, a doctor damaged by the war, and considers accepting his proposal of marriage. While Geoffrey expresses disapproval of Murray, he displays an uncharacteristic change of heart after learning that Neil is alive and in Halifax. Murray quickly realizes that Geoffrey is desperate to ensure that Neil is not court martialed, as the trial will ruin Geoffrey's chances of gaining a staff position in the military. Penny and Neil are briefly reunited, though she finds herself unable to reveal to him that she has given birth to their daughter, Jean, who has since been adopted by her aunt and her husband, before their meeting is interrupted by Murray, who warns them of Geoffrey's intentions. Neil sets off to find Alec MacKenzie alone, finding MacKenzie favourable to testifying in Neil's defence, despite Geoffrey providing Alec with a job to support his family; the men are joined by Murray, who also agrees to testify in favour of Neil.

On the following morning, the Halifax Explosion occurs. Neil and Murray manage to rescue MacKenzie and his wife from their house, though it is clear that MacKenzie has been badly injured. After the two men locate Penny, suffering moderate injuries at the shipyard, Murray sets up a makeshift hospital at the Wains' house. Meanwhile, Neil enters the city to procure supplies and assist with rescue efforts, no longer focused on clearing his name to spite Geoffrey. However, Neil is shocked when he finds Geoffrey has died in the explosion.

Though MacKenzie ultimately dies from his injuries, he and Murray compose an affidavit with a testimony to clear Neil's name. When she has recovered sufficiently, Penny goes with Neil to retrieve Jean, whose adoptive parents also died in the explosion.