[Abra Phillips, the heroine of Gaining Ground, published in the United States and Canada as Abra] chooses, without obvious motivation, to cut herself off from all the social props supposed to enrich a woman's daily existence….
The life of a recluse has always been considered a valid temptation for a man, properly appealing to some romantic strain in the masculine temperament, whereas the woman living alone in the middle of nowhere is typically a witch or an outcast—at any rate, an oddity. Abra strongly repudiates the idea that she may be mad; what has overtaken her is not a "breakdown" but its opposite, a healing up…. The novel succeeds in communicating the charms of solitary living (sitting in front of a log fire, wrapped in a patchwork quilt), though it doesn't fail to stress the powers of endurance required to carry it through….
Joan Barfoot has resisted the impulse to turn all the small disasters, the wrongs and burdens and resentments of home life, into a comedy of bad manners or forgivable errors. To document recovery of spirits, to indicate the resources available to worldly and ironic wives, is the business of many clever and entertaining novelists. Joan Barfoot's purpose is more serious and radical; she is questioning assumptions about sanity and "proper" behaviour….
The problem involved in creating sympathy for an absconding mother (a figure in romantic fiction no...
(The entire section is 509 words.)