Celia is the struggling, single mother of an exceptionally beautiful child, nine-year-old Rachel. All too aware of the precarious life she has built for them, Celia is stricken with terror and guilt one hot summer night when Rachel disappears. Media coverage of the abduction is tremendous, and closely monitoring events is Ron, an appliance repairman who lives nearby. Though Rachel is a stranger to him, he convinces himself that he is necessary to her survival. His feelings for her are at once, tender, misguided and chillingly possessive.

A National Bestseller
A Globe & Mail Book of the Year
Longlisted for The Scotia Bank Giller Prize
Shortlisted for The Governor General’s Award for Fiction
A Toronto Book Award Finalist
Winner of The Trillium Book Award

critical acclaim

“Gowdy writes as if she is on a sinking boat and needs to throw out all the dead weight. The only words that survive are the ones that matter: no extraneous evidence of her research, no long-winded descriptions, no self-indulgent frills of characterization. And the result is a page-turner that finds tension not in the obvious question (will Rachel be rescued?) but in the more personal ones.”
The New York Times

“Morality and loyalty are spread out across Barbara Gowdy’s latest novel. When Rachel is abducted while her mother is at work, Celia and her small circle of friends scramble to find her while the community at large passes judgment on Celia’s parenting choices and speculates coldly on her daughter’s whereabouts. Harrowing and compelling, Gowdy’s page-turner tells the story of any parent’s nightmare.”
The Chicago Tribune

“Although Gowdy maintains a palpable level of tension and the dangling carrot of whether the child will live or die, she offers a more nuanced psychological focus on a quartet whose relations to one another are both oddly distant and profoundly intimate.”
The Los Angeles Times

“Terror and empathy move in lockstep through the final pages of this deeply perceptive novel.”
O, The Oprah Magazine

“Gowdy refuses to make light of a gut-wrenching subject. What she does, with bravery and compassion, is explore the immense impact that obsessive love can have on innocent—and not-so-innocent—people.”
People Magazine

“An assured, perceptive, deftly delivered story.”
Kirkus (starred review)

Helpless is all the more chilling for its calm, understated reporting…. A nail-biting tale of suspense.”
Library Journal (starred review)

“Absorbing reading…. Even Gowdy’s secondary characters are memorable, especially Celia’s kindhearted, intellectual landlord and Ron’s vulnerable, ex-addict girlfriend. But her true feat is the sympathetic portrayal of Ron himself, a man who seems painfully unaware of his own dark impulses.”

“Barbara Gowdy’s unhinging new novel will leave you helpless to her charms.”
Vanity Fair

“Helpless probes the nature of love, obsession and the capacity for self deception.”
The Washington Post

“A thumping thriller. Through Gowdy’s fictional exploration of this dark subject, we may exorcise our deepest fears…. Gowdy is too clever a writer to impose a bland cause-and-effect scenario, leaving the uncomfortable experiences of Ron’s past to spill into the present. Her disquieting fiction carries the message that we refuse at our peril to engage with and understand people at their unloveliest.”
The Independent

“A penetrating, psychological thriller. Gowdy weaves an unsettling narrative, her fiction all-too-grimly reflecting recent UK headlines. While Ron never gains our sympathy, his drives are made, in some way, comprehensible, and the story reveals the terrors that might possess both victim and oppressor.”
Daily Mail

“Compelling. Gowdy’s pacey, present-tense narration ramifies into multiple points of view. She is an acute eavesdropper, listening in on the inner workings of her characters as they vacillate, rethink, or deepen their understanding. Different kinds of obliviousness connect them all; each one is helpless, controlled by something or someone. A genuinely unsettling novel.”
The Times Literary Supplement

“A tautly plotted but unnerving psychological thriller…. Gowdy’s controlled, rhythmic prose creates a slow-burning tension and plot progression that is persuasive and entirely sinister.”
The Guardian

“An immensely well-observed tour of the four linked psychologies on display: Ron (zealous, alarmed, steadily more het up), Nancy (anxious amid the marijuana haze to do her best for everybody), Celia (rendered near-catatonic by the city-wide media frenzy in which she is caught up) and the victim herself. The acute psychological line demanded by material of this sort gets trodden with an unobtrusive delicacy: a dog-walker collecting up his leashes in one fist “like a charioteer,” Ron’s refurbishment of the basement lair defined as “a form of worship,” Rachel accepting compliments “a little sadly, as another child might accept a gift she already had.” The ending, too, is nicely judged and in its way as ambiguous as some of the judgments that have gone before.   Barbara Gowdy is another top-class Canadian crying out for the attentions of the U.K.’s reading groups.”
The Independent

“Gowdy, who has been longlisted for The Man Booker in the past, is typically bold in her approach to a ferociously difficult subject, and there is no doubt that Helpless will provoke strong reaction. Ron and his desires are analysed with great clarity and in a manner that contains sympathy. Quite properly, Gowdy suggests that nothing is simple and that understanding and forgiveness must not be discarded even in the face of so great a transgression.”
The Times/UK

“Barbara Gowdy is a Canadian author who has been quietly garnering excellent reviews and a reputation for clean, precise writing about tricky subjects. The characters she chooses to write about are often those who are easy to revile and demonize. Yet once they have been filtered through Gowdy’s just prose, they regain some humanity and even inspire the odd (and unexpected) twinge of sympathy. In Helpless, kidnapper Ron is no exception…. The end, when it arrives, grinds you to a sudden halt of conflicting emotions—neither unreservedly happy nor straightforwardly sad.”
Time Out

“In Helpless, Gowdy tells the story of a child being abducted by a disturbed man—but not in the way you would expect. It’s not sensational, nor is it sympathetic, but it chillingly and calmly explains why Ron abducted Rachel and the consequences that brings. Helpless is an assured, suspense-filled story that will keep you gripped until the last page.”
RTE TV Guide

“Gowdy is a very gifted writer because she manages to make what is a weird situation seem quite normal. She is able to get right into the mother’s mind and explain and explore what Celia is going through by the loss of her daughter, which I found so interesting yet so moving, at times I felt moved to tears. Thankfully it finishes on a high. I felt the author knew just how far to go, to keep the reader’s interest.”
New Books Magazine

“An aching sense of vulnerability bites into every page in Barbara Gowdy’s story of obsession and deviance, and its terrible consequences. Gowdy writes with haunting assurance as she enters the interior lives of each character and of Cabbagetown, Toronto. The fear that percolates through the country when the kidnapping is broadcast, the silences, the strategies, the checks and balances with which each character maintains a semblance of hope and sanity during the search are created with subtlety and craft. Her narrative is seamless and her undeniable skill is to make this dark tale of hazard and damage utterly plausible.”
Weekend Australian

“Barbara Gowdy’s tautly constructed Helpless is not for the faint-hearted…. She is an accomplished author who uses the suspended period of crisis as an opportunity to fully round her characters…. Exquisitely painful to read.”
The New Zealand Herald on Sunday

Helpless marks Gowdy as aristocracy.”
Age Magazine, Australia

“Over the past two decades, Barbara Gowdy has earned herself a reputation in her homeland as a writer whose surreal, often provocative novels and short stories are equal to anything penned by fellow Canadian luminaries Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro and Carol Shields. Outside of Canada, however, critical acclaim has curiously eluded the innovative Gowdy and this, her seventh novel, is by far the most mainstream and accessible work to date. Gowdy’s story is one that impels readers to ask difficult questions about the nature of motherhood, love, and personal compulsions.”
Courier Mail, Australia

Helpless is an exercise in character creation, and a marvelously successful one.”
The Herald, New Zealand

“Gowdy is a peace-making genius, unique in its talent for the translation of strangeness to second nature, repulsiveness to sorrow and insane to ordinary.”
The Globe and Mail

“The sleight of hand—the magic—that Gowdy achieves at the end of the novel is astonishing. We realize that it has been love, and nothing but love—Gowdy’s enduring subject—that has been driving this time bomb of a novel, all along. Once again we are rendered helpless before its skewed, though brilliant, face.”
The Vancouver Sun

“Gowdy is forever moving forward, improving her techniques, finding better ways to express her sense of what in the here and now is truly momentous, really worth questioning…. Helpless is as straightforward, immediately accessible, and menacing as a conventional literary thriller, but it defies and eviscerates genre-writing even as it simulates it. In Helpless Barbara Gowdy’s genius—and that’s not too strong a word for it—is to portray several kinds of goodness, and to make each of them more interesting than their opposites, something mass culture is always persuading us isn’t true. Like Vladimir Nabokov (though she is unlike him in so many other ways), Gowdy refuses to flatter the idols of the marketplace and provide half-witted banalities in the guise of evil. The world of Helpless is familiar, ordinary, but utterly compelling.”
Books in Canada, T.F. Rigelhof

“A genuinely suspenseful read gripping to the last page. Without any betrayal of ending, it can also be said that the novel does not leave the reader in the darkness, and the general effect is not depressing.”
The Toronto Star

“Over the past seventeen years, Barbara Gowdy has established herself as CanLit royalty. A new book from one of the country’s elite authors is anticipated as one of the biggest literary events of the year. Gowdy’s seventh novel, Helpless, will not disappoint any of her fans and will likely win her some new ones.”
The Edmonton Journal

“A book that stands out among an already unique and powerful body of work.”
The Montreal Gazette

“Gowdy’s strength has always been investigating those ambiguities and areas that otherwise cause abrupt dinner party subject changes. No one shades the darkness quite like her.”
Eye Weekly

“The tension is unbearable—we really do not know what’s going to happen. But Gowdy is not a sadist. She’s interested more in the psyches of her characters than in torturing her readers.”
NOW Magazine

“A riveting novel about child abduction and the dynamics of power.”

“Both a page-turning thriller and a nuanced examination of misguided love.”
CBC Radio