HELEN IN EXILE by Ian McLachlan


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The seriousness and skill that go into this triptych-like story of three generations of Montreal women are immediately apparent; but it's equally clear that some equal power of marshaling, of getting the material to actually move, is missing. MacLachlan is dealing here with three Helens--Helena the grandmother (now in a Montreal nursing home), Helene the mother (a well-to-do widow), and Helen the daughter (a painter, a drop-out from husband and kids)--all of whom have had their political consciousnesses raised like a welt. Helena witnessed and survived the revolting cruelties of Greeks and Turks in her native Smyrna. Helene was a Resistance member in France and was tortured by Gestapo interrogators who sought the whereabouts of her Canadian lover (later husband). And young Helen has only recently taken the largely political plunge into bisexuality and adultery while dabbling at the edges of a Quebec separatist splinter group. When one of these splinters, Andre, gets involved in the kidnapping and subsequent murder of Pierre LaPorte, he puts Helen to the sudden test: he wants her to hide him. And Helen's acceptance of this involvement--with the clear ill-fate that will come of it--is either a culmination or a shoddy parody of the other Helens' historical bravery; you have the sense that McLachlan himself isn't sure which. All the Helens command a certain poignancy of situation, the prose molding to them plastically; they're gifted with strength. What McLachlan (The Seventh Hexagram) doesn't give them, though, is much room: this is a book of impressive girders and uprights and caissons, standing nobly side to side, without the common fictional road to top it off. Admirable, worthy, yet somehow lifeless.

Pub Date: Oct. 7th, 1980
Publisher: Dial