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Weathering by Lucy Wood

Weathering (2015)

by Lucy Wood

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She spent a long time finding the right spot -- the correct angle of light, complicated colours, something to frame the shots with in the background. Then she set up the tripod, selected a lens, attached it and set the aperture and focus. And then waited. And waited. [ . . . ] Why did she do this? [ . . . ] But she knew why. She could remember exactly why, even now. For the way time seemed to slow down and stretch, measured in the river's ripples rather than by clocks and mealtimes. For the invisibility. For the hush. To forget. To make some sort of record -- but of what she wasn't sure exactly. To notice things she wouldn't otherwise have noticed: dragonflies hunting, the patterns of light, the specific way that water poured over a dipper's back. (page 124)

It has been thirteen years since Ada has seen the house on the river where she grew up alone with her mother, Pearl. Now she has returned with Pepper, her six-year-old daughter, to this damp and derelict place, but--as she's quick to point out to local folk--she's only here to settle her mother's affairs, sell the house, and move on as soon as possible.

The first thing Ada and Pepper do is to scatter Pearl's ashes on the water. Pearl, however, is not ready to leave. There are things she, too, needs to settle. A watery, elemental spirit, she creeps from the river and makes her presence known to her daughter and granddaughter up at the house. She recognizes now how isolated and confused her life had been in those final months. Sinking into a form of dementia, in part from lack of society, she had refused to answer the phone or even respond to knocks at the door. Luke, her closest neighbour, had kept an eye out for her, accompanying her to the hospital when her wrists and fingers could no longer flex to perform the jewelry and watch repairs that had earned her a meager living. Now she needs to be with the remaining two members of her family before taking final leave.

Pearl's appearance does not startle or unsettle Ada or Pepper. She guides her granddaughter in the use of the camera left behind and encourages her interest in the birds that live on and near the river. Pearl's artistic passion for the creatures is evident in the framed photographs that line the lower hallway of the house. To Ada, Pearl communicates her understanding that the life they lived beside the river was isolated, unusual, and difficult. She knows why her daughter decided to leave. There is no bitterness.

Determined though Ada is to clear out Pearl's things and sort through all the paperwork expeditiously, the house has other ideas, raising endless impediments. Just keeping herself and her daughter warm, fed, and clean is a time-intensive business for Ada. The house has a primitive heating system that involves feeding wood into a boiler for heat and warm water. Due to disrepair and turbulent weather (rain, hail, and snow) the power and telephone service are frequently down. The nearest shop is some distance away, and Pearl's rusty old car is hardly reliable. Coping with the place and weathering the ongoing fall and winter storms make Ada appreciate the hardships her mother faced. She also comes to terms with her guilt about not returning earlier to see Pearl before her death.

News spreads quickly that Ada is back, and she finds herself working at the local pub, something she did as a younger woman. An excellent and creative cook, she is soon in some demand at the establishment, and the money is helpful. She is attracted to a sympathetic younger man who assists her with repairs to the house. Quite naturally, it seems, she is becoming "embroiled" in exactly the ways she vowed she wouldn't be.

Wild storms, wind, rain, flooding--the elements--are powerful players in Lucy Wood's poetic novel. Like her mother before her, Ada is changed--weathered-- by her time in the rundown house near the "chuntering" river that muscles its way through the valley. So is Pepper.

Wood has written a highly atmospheric, impressive first novel. Having said that, I should add that it is not for everyone. First of all, there is not much of a plot here. Most of the book turns on how Ada and Pepper face the difficulties of living in a house so worn down by the elements. Furthermore, while the author does provide some of Pearl's backstory--telling how and why she first came to the house and how she felt about the place at the beginning--I would've liked to know more about the time before the isolated valley. I wish the author had offered this instead of dwelling quite so much on Pearl's end: how she is (almost cosmically) absorbed back into the larger, impersonal, natural world.

In the end, Weathering is not so much a novel of incident as an extended prose poem, albeit one with fully fleshed-out characters. I believe fans of Emily Bronte would like this book, as well as readers of Jon McGregor, who (I understand) has been a mentor to Wood. I look forward to seeing what she does next. ( )
  fountainoverflows | Apr 16, 2017 |
If you are looking for a plot-driven book, this isn't the read for you. If you are looking for a book that is action packed, this isn't the read for you. But, if you are interested in a book with strong character development, then this is a book you might like.

Pearl had a child late in life, that child Ada, grew up without a father when he suddenly left them behind when Ada was just a baby. That Child Ada, also grew up to have a fatherless child. Pepper is sensitive and seems to have a problematic learning disability.

The book is filled with page after page after page of the weather and the river located quite near Pearl's dilapidated, falling apart home.

When Ada scattered Pearl's ashes in the river, little did she know that her mother would return to haunt the house and communicate with Ada. Throughout the book Ada does not seem alarmed at all that her mother's spirit is restless.

As a wet fall turns to a winter of heavy snows, the roof leaks, the paper peals off the walls, and the dampness is ever pervasive. The lights flicker, the wood is wet and smoky, and layer after layer of clothing cannot take the chill out of the air.

Away from society, Pepper longs to sell the house and move along, but Pepper roams through the woods and watches others in the small hamlet.

Slowly, Ada meets local people. And, as a huge storm occurs, Pearl becomes more agitated as her ghostly form turns into the water of the river that pulls her into the swirling torrents and under neath to the bottom of the river where perhaps she can find peace.

Truly, I'm not sure how I feel about this book. The prose is poetic. But, the continual descriptions of the wind, the water, the snow, the cold and desolation filled page after page and page. And, the never ending chill was over the top.
  Whisper1 | Jul 21, 2016 |
Weathering is such a poetic, nuanced book. It is not plot heavy at all, so if you're big on plot, I suppose I wouldn't recommend it. The blurb and the way the book was marketing give expectations that will disappoint. This isn't a book that can be properly described or put into a genre.
But for those who like books that are more character focused, I find Weathering to be beautiful.
What I liked were the themes of nature, especially the river, which I think mirrored the spirit (so to speak) of Pearl, as well as her daughter Ada, and even Ada's daughter Pepper.
It was touching and real the way Lucy Wood showed the similarities between the three generations, and the writing really painted a vivid picture of the town and its residents.
It's a really calm book, not at all full of action.
The only thing that nagged at me really, was Pearl's ghost, and the way Ada could see her, but it was never shown as out of the ordinary, Ada never being alarmed by it, almost like if Pearl had been alive all along. That's stays unresolved, and so I took a star off the rating for that.
Vivid world building, strong characters, and the importance of the setting are what make this a great story.
But the ending, the ending and the last two paragraphs especially, tie the whole theme together, and is written so lyrically, it took my breath away. ( )
  imagiphantaria | Jul 2, 2016 |
This novel builds on the reputation Lucy Wood established with her short story collection Diving Belles. This book feels darker in tone, a family story set in an isolated and old fashioned house, and a location that shapes the lives of the family that live there - a mother and daughter who return to live there after her mother's death, and the grandmother whose ghostly presence is given equal weight. Brooding and atmospheric, full of startlingly vivid language. ( )
1 vote bodachliath | May 4, 2016 |
Three generations of women, all wanting a home, a place they feel they belong. Ada, arrives with her young daughter Pepper, back to the house she had left many years ago. Her mother Pearl has died, and she intends to stay only long enough to put the house in order, to sell.

When I first started reading this the prose was so lovely, almost haunting, dreamlike, it kept me reading, still wasn't sure how I felt about the story. The descriptions of the river that plays a crucial role in this novel, were amazing. The wildlife, descriptions of the house, that needs so much more work than even Ada realizes. Truthfully this is a slow burner of a book, a quiet seducer that creeps up on the reader. Not much happens, but what does is set against the surroundings, the town and pub, the few characters that live there.

Pearl comes back, kind of and tells her story, a sad one. Her love of photography which young Pepper will continue. At the end of Chapter 24, there is such a tender moment, it almost brought me to tears, just a few lines but for me it encapsulated what this novel is relating. Love shown in different ways, and where you least expect it whether for a person, nature or a home. Almost without realizing it I came to love this tender, exquisitely told story and all its characters.

ARC from Netgalley. ( )
1 vote Beamis12 | Oct 7, 2015 |
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Arse over elbow and a mouthful of river. Which she couldn't spit out.
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