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!

16 thoughts on “Stormy weather

  1. Marion 9 January 2014 / 12:50 pm

    Very pertinent thoughts in “four seasons in one day” land. If only I had known you were going to Southland in summer – I would have counselled against it, having experienced Antarctic sourced gales during one summer holiday through the Catlins and beyond. We Kiwis use the weather to facilitate conversation but NZ novels where it effects the characters? Any suggestions.

  2. robertafsmith 9 January 2014 / 1:00 pm

    Laurence Fearnley – The Hut Builder? Good question, will have to think about that one!

    • Marion 9 January 2014 / 2:21 pm

      Yes that sprang to mind – weather and mountains

  3. purplerulzpurplerulz 9 January 2014 / 3:55 pm

    Great blog Roberta! Before I’d got to your list, my mind was already yelling The Shipping News – never have icebergs and wind been so part of the story! This also allows me to mention my favourite book The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It’s not just weather but it’s the weather after an apocalypse – now that’s weather!

    • robertafsmith 9 January 2014 / 4:48 pm

      Good one Jacqui – can’t top post apocalyptic weather!

  4. Gallivanta 9 January 2014 / 5:46 pm

    How about Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 😉 ?

  5. shadyladynz 9 January 2014 / 7:46 pm

    How about Anne Holt’s book 222. The weather plays a central role in this gripping mystery!

    • robertafsmith 9 January 2014 / 8:38 pm

      That is a very good suggestion – I love murder mysteries where the suspects are all trapped in one place. The cold is a very real presence in this book

  6. Ingrid Nye 10 January 2014 / 12:37 am

    I think of The Mosquito Coast and The Poisonwood Bible, which maybe aren’t defined by weather but the hot air leaks off the pages

    • robertafsmith 10 January 2014 / 8:18 am

      Both very worthy candidates. I am just reading The Lower River by Paul Theroux, and he does hot weather torpor very well indeed!

  7. Marion 10 January 2014 / 11:05 am

    How about Flight behaviour – it is a very climate change influenced novel.

    • robertafsmith 10 January 2014 / 1:44 pm

      You are so right, I had forgotten that “big picture” climate influence. I loved Delarobia so much, so my memory of that book is always about her and how she finally managed to realise her potential (through climate change, of course!)

  8. refbefBeth 27 January 2014 / 5:12 pm

    Another David Vann book, Legend of a Suicide, has one shivering whilst reading – also set in Alaska.

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