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By Virginia Heffernan

You might remember around this time last year I recommended some non-fiction books with a mining theme. This year I’ve reviewed four novels with a FIFO and/or northern twist:

February, Lisa Moore

February is the story of Helen O'Mara, a pregnant mother of three left behind when her husband drowns on a sinking oil rig off the coast of Newfoundland on Valentine’s Day. That day, that month, are still imprinted on Helen’s heart when we meet her 25 years later. She frequently gets drawn back to the past in the midst of the day-to-day demands of the present.

February is a novel about grief set amid the raw and beautiful landscape of Newfoundland. Prepare to be moved. As The New York Times says: "Helen’s informed, distraught imaginings of the rig's sinking — when precisely the men knew they were doomed, how they died — have a particular, painful sharpness." You may cry but you will also laugh at the absurdity of Helen's situation. Many of you will identify with the conflicted feelings that accompany single parenting. February won the CBC’s Canada Reads 2013 and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Company Town, Madeline Ashby

Company Town is a science fiction novel that also happens to revolve around an oil rig in the Canadian Maritimes. In this case, the rig is the size of a city and populated by bioengineered humans. The central character Hwa, one of the few organic humans, is in high demand for her fighting skills. Though I have not read Company Town myself yet, it has been called "elegant, cruel, and brutally perfect" and "a brilliant and chilling look at our post-oil future" by fellow authors. The book gets a 3.73 star rating (out of five) on Good Reads.

The Call of the Wild, Jack London

American journalist and author Jack London joined the gold rush to the Yukon as a young man. His experiences became the foundation for The Call of the Wild, a tale about a dog stolen from his home in California and sold into service as a sled dog in Alaska. The short novel became wildly popular when it was published in 1903 and remains a classic tale of northern survival. The Guardian recently included the book on its list of top 100 novels written in English.


The Tent Peg, Aritha van Herk

Anyone, especially any woman, who has worked in the northern Canadian wilderness will appreciate this story of a female camp cook working in the bush with a group of male geologists. J.L. is seeking solitude after some difficult personal experiences, but the men gravitate towards her like flies to the light. The Tent Peg is a humorous, engaging and realistic rendering of the female experience in a male-dominated exploration camp. Van Herk was nominated for Canada’s Governor General’s Award for her novel No Fixed Address.

More gems from Virginia:

Virginia Heffernan is a former exploration geologist who met her Welsh husband when they were both working on a gold project in Namibia. They live in Toronto with their teenage son. Virginia mostly stays put these days (she's now a freelance writer and member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada), but Roger continues on his global quest for the next big ore deposit. To check out Virginia's work, visit