Stormy weather

Cover of Caribou IslandWe had two hours of sunshine over a six day Christmas holiday in a Catlins bach. Small wonder my mind turned to thoughts of the weather in fiction.

And I’m not talking about your everyday gentle Mediterranean breeze here. I’m talking about weather with attitude. The sort of unwanted bad stuff that pulls out a chair at the table and settles in for the long haul. The sort of weather that drives couples in enclosed spaces to the edge of their tolerance, when even a good argument seems preferable to scanning the skies, yet again, for a tiny patch of blue.

And, indeed, there are novels where the weather is like an additional character in the plot, where you feel that the weather is partly responsible for everything that goes wrong and a few of the things that go right. Here’s my selection of great weather reads:

  • Caribou Island – David Vann’s novel about the dangers of attempting to fulfil someone else’s obsession, set in a bitterly cold climate.
  • Cover of The Sheltering SkyThe Shipping News – Annie Proulx. The 1994 Pulitzer prizewinning novel in which unpredictable weather plays a key role.
  • Smilla’s Sense of Snow – Peter Hoeg. A detective’s “visceral feeling for snow” makes for a chilling Danish thriller.
  • Atonement – Ian McEwan. Read this review in The Guardian on the effect of weather on the characters in this novel.
  • The Sheltering Sky – Paul Bowles’ novel reveals the effect that strange environments and great heat can have on relationships.

Four out of five of these books have been made into films. Which begs the question: is extreme weather an asset, visually and atmospherically, in both novels and films? But don’t take my word for it, here’s Ernest Hemingway on the subject:

Remember to get the weather into your god damned book – weather is very important.

As far as our little Catlins trip went, in the end we did not have a marital spat, instead opting for a drive in the pouring rain to Gore, for a cappuccino. And in that one sentence resides everything you need to know as to why a film will never be made of my life!

Recent necrology, December 2013

cover of Merry Christmas CowboyA list of well-known people who have died recently:

  • Ronald Biggs, 1929-2013
    Criminal involved in the 1963 great train robbery
  • Janet Dailey, 1944-2013
    American author of numerous romance novels
  • Jim Hall, 1930-2013
    Elegant jazz guitarist who played with Ella Fitzgerald and Sonny Rollins
  • Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013
    Former President of South Africa who guided the country from apartheid to democracy during a life filled with hardship and strruggle
  • Peter O’Toole, 1932-2013
    Hell-raising actor who blazed to fame as Lawrence of Arabia but never fulfilled his early promise of true greatness
  • Eleanor Parker, 1922-2013
    Versatile three-time Oscar nominee who played Baroness Scraeder in The sound of music
  • Paul Torday, 1946-2013
    Novelist whose Salmon fishing in the Yemen satirised Western adventurism in the Middle East
  • Colin Wilson, 1931-2013
    Author who electrified the critics in the 1950s before turning to books on crime and the occult