The Hull Home Fire
The title of this book gave me the impression that the story would focus on the tragic fire that swept through Hull Home, a private hospital for the aged in St. John’s, Newfoundland, on February 10, 1948. While it is true that the fire affects most of the characters in one way or another, it is not pivotal to the plot, nor is there much of an emotional reaction to the horror, even amongst the staff and residents who are trapped by the flames.
Setting aside that difficulty, the novel portrays an interesting piece of Canadian history. The fire occurred approximately one year before Newfoundland gave up its status as an independent country and joined Canada as a province. The populace is strongly divided between those who favor confederation and those who are opposed, and the public meetings are rather raucous.
The Gibbs family is also divided, but over a different issue: Henry, who is twenty-one, has been accepted into medical school in Toronto, and his father, Tom, threatens to cut him off from the family if he goes. Despite the tensions, the scenes within the Gibbs family home are quite enjoyable, and it is a pleasure to catch a glimpse of the homey lifestyle of this part of the country in the 1940s.
Abbott’s comfortable writing style has both a reserve and openness, perhaps reflecting the culture about which she is writing. Anyone interested in Canadian history, especially the history of the Atlantic Provinces, will enjoy this novel.