24 February 2015

Review: Weathering by Lucy Wood

Lucy Wood
Bloomsbury, 2015
Hardback, 290pp

If you read and enjoyed Wood's collection of short stories, Diving Belles, you'll recognise the smell and taste of this book. Or rather, the smell and taste are different: while Diving Belles was all about the salt-sea and the sand, Weathering is imbued with cold and muffling snow.  Wood has moved inland, upriver, to where the water is fresh.  But like the earlier book, the elements are almost like characters or plot, defining the shape of the story (born in Autumn, carried away, at the end, on a Spring flood) and setting limits for the protagonists.

The book is about three women, mother and grandmother Pearl, mother and daughter Ada, daughter and granddaughter Pepper,  At the start, Pearl finds herself in the river. She wants to get back into her house, where Ada and Pearl have arrived, but that pesky river keeps carrying her away.

Ada walked out years ago, leaving Pearl, not in a drama but at the same time, intent on getting away, living a life.  Now she has come back, with strange Pearl - who can't settle at school, doesn't get on with the other kids - to clear out the cottage. Not to live there: she'll only be around a few weeks.  Good thing too - the roof leaks, the log burner is spiteful, the electricity intermittent.  Perhaps she can get something for the house from Ray, he of the thin smile.

And there we are.  Ada and Pearl make a home, temporary, like all the other places where they wash up.  The story drifts back and forward in time, meandering a bit, showing how Ada grew up and how Pearl declined.  Unlike Diving Belles, there's nothing magical (though the way the story's told might reflect the supernatural - or it might not...) but it has the same clarify of focus, the same flow, the sense of watching ripples in the river, as that book. Also, the same magical use of language, close observation of the world and sympathy for its characters: they are human, they manage as best they can, what can you do, it seems to say.  The heron will be here next year, whatever.  The snow will melt, the flood will rise, everything will be rinsed away down to the sea.

It is a captivating, magical book, to be read slowly and appreciated. Buy the print version, not the e-book - there is a beautiful, tactile cover: simply holding it is a pleasure.

This is the sort of book that gets literary fiction a good name.

What a terrific writer: I'm really, really hoping for more from Lucy Wood.

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