Monday 1 December 2014

After Helen by Paul Cavanagh

From international Lit-Idol winner and critically-acclaimed author Paul Cavanagh, this novel tells the story of Irving, an unassuming history teacher grieving the recent death of his larger-than-life wife, Helen, whom he first met during a chance encounter at her father's bookstore. 
Their teenage daughter, Severn - angry at Irving, angry at Helen - has disappeared after stealing a book that may reveal more about her mother than she ever wanted to know. 
On the road in search of Severn, Irving revisits his past with Helen as he follows a trail of clues that reveal why Severn has disappeared.

Along the way, he comes face-to-face with some long-buried family secrets - secrets that he'll have to confront if he wants to save his relationship with his daughter.

Irving's wife Helen died of cancer and he is trying his best to carry on with his life. Continuing to work, caring for his daughter Severn whilst coping with a grief that is all consuming.

Severn is angry. She is angry that Helen is dead, she blames Irving, she blames Helen and she's disappeared. Irving and Marla set off on a road trip to Toronto to try to find Severn and her unsuitable boyfriend Avery (Marla's son), to try to work out just why Severn has taken off like this.

The story of Irving and Marla's journey is told in chapters that alternate with the story of how Irving and Helen met years ago. Alongside these two stories the reader learns about Sir John Franklin, who led a doomed 19th century expedition to find the Northwest Passage, a passion of Irving's with echoes of his and Helen's own particular story.

Paul Cavanagh writes very well, expertly exploring relationship issues between a father and daughter, and a husband and wife whilst also concentrating on how loss and grief can affect the mind, and have a huge impact on actions.

Irving discovers many things during his journey, some things that have been buried for many years, and things that now uncovered, must be dealt with.

Whilst Helen and Irving are the predominant characters in After Helen, the author has created a cast of supporting characters who also bring this story to life, and I was especially drawn to Will, the bookseller, and whilst Marla could be seen as annoying and irritating to some, she certainly brings an edge to what could have become a quite heavy and dark novel.

Paul Cavanagh is a critically-acclaimed Canadian novelist who was crowned the world’s first LIT IDOL at the LONDON BOOK FAIR 2004 for his manuscript, After Helen. A publishing deal followed and After Helen was released exclusively in Canada to glowing reviews. Now, after a 10 year hiatus, this award-winning novel is available for the first time in the UK, published by Not That London Publishers on 20 November 2014.

Find him on Facebook    Follow him on Twitter @cavanaghpaul

Intrigued readers can visit to read the opening chapters of the novel.

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