Weathering by Lucy Wood: An unalloyed treat

Cover imageI noticed murmurs of anticipation for Lucy Wood’s first novel as far back as last year in my neck of the Twitter woods. People whose opinions I respect seemed to be getting themselves in quite a lather about it. Her short stories certainly met with a great deal of acclaim with comparisons to Angela Carter, Margaret Atwood and A. S. Byatt being chucked around by the likes of the Guardian and The Times. A lot to live up to, then, but although I’d be a little more circumspect in my own comparisons, Weathering is certainly a striking novel right from the get-go.

It opens with the drowning of Pearl, birdwatcher, jewellery repairer and mother to Ada. After the funeral, Ada arrives with her six-year-old daughter, Pepper, to get her mother’s house in order ready to sell, never intending to stay in this isolated, damp-ridden cottage from which she’d made her escape thirteen years ago and never looked back. She slips reluctantly back into village life, making the awkward re-acquaintance of her childhood friend, learning how to cope with the practicalities her mother had taken care of, turning the pub from a dusty old boozer into a place where people reserve tables to eat. Pepper, scattered and a little pugnacious but curious and fascinated with their new surroundings, makes herself at home, picking up her grandmother’s camera and coaxing her old cat back into the house. Pearl looks on as her daughter and granddaughter find their way into a new life, threading her own memories through their stories.

Put like that, Weathering sounds like a fairly prosaic tale with a touch of the supernatural but what singles it out is the vivid word pictures Wood sketches, often poetic but sometimes pithy and very funny: ‘Take a sour git and leave stewing for thirteen years’ perfectly sums up the cantankerous, chiseling Mick who owns the rundown village shop. Wood shifts her narrative perspective from Pepper to Ada to Pearl and back again with ease, capturing Pepper’s six-year-old inquisitiveness and Pearl’s grumpy misanthropy with equal deftness. Ada and Pearl’s sticky relationship is encapsulated adroitly in a remembered exchange of Christmas presents: ‘She bought Ada a purple scarf with beads on that Ada wore for one day. Ada bought her a bright green belt which Pearl wore for two.’ Weather is everywhere as you’d expect from the title – as a metaphor, a backdrop and a thing of beauty not to be tamed. And if you have any worries about that supernatural element have no fear: this is no clunky, heavy-handed ghost story – it’s wonderfully subtle. I understand, now, what all the fuss was about. Weathering is an unalloyed treat: gorgeous language and sharp characterisation all wrapped up in an engrossing story.

26 thoughts on “Weathering by Lucy Wood: An unalloyed treat”

  1. Oh I’m so excited to read this! It’s next on my TBR pile. I loved her short story collection Diving Belles so much, the weird poetry of her writing and thinking. I feel like she is what would happen if Kelly Link and Alice Oswald merged into one person.

    1. You have a treat in store, Victoria. I’m a little late to the party with Ms Wood but will be seeking out her short stories next. Her use of language is so striking.

  2. It sounds like a promising debut, and her short stories sound like they were a treat too.

    I do wish publications would be more clear about a work’s literary merits, style, story and say what they mean rather than this lazy practice of making a comparison with authors of renown. In my opinion it rarely holds true and is a distraction from the real clues as to whether one might enjoy a book or not. Too often in reviews now I keep reading, well I read this because of it’s comparisons with XYZ and well it’s not – and I have just finished Wolf Winter which suffered the same thing, it was literary leagues away from the book it was compared to and I finished it feeling annoyed to have been duped so. Never again I shall completely ignore those comparisons in future and go back to previous methods of discerning whether its for me or not.

    1. I agree, Claire. If I were Wood I would have been more terrified than delighted to be compared with Angela Carter. What a thing to live up to.

      How very annoying to have wasted good reading time with Wolf Winter. I hope your next book is better.

        1. I know you’re right but after so long in the book trade I’m hooked on always looking for the next new thing. Still, it has sharpened my judgement a little.

          1. I know what you mean, even this title only came into my view because it’s been republished as a shiny new thing, 100th anniversary of the author. 🙂

            So will you be reading Harper Lee’s new book, even though she wrote it before To Kill a Mocking Bird, making it a kind of vintage read too? No editing apparently, it’s to be published as she intended it to be. Quite a sensation, what a heroine she is!

  3. Apologies for the random comment, I’m having one of those days. What I meant to say was:

    I loved her short stories and I think the Carter comparisons – which Kirsty Logan has had too – are shorthand for literary, some theme or idea to do with gender, and a bit of magic/fairytales. No one writes like Carter (and much as I love her work, thank goodness for that!) but I do find the comparison helpful.

    I think the problem with comparisons on novels is they aren’t designed for those of us who read lots of books, they’re for your browsers.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to Weathering although finances mean I’ll be waiting for the paperback.

    1. I thought you were having an existential moment! We all have days like that.

      It’s such a tall order to lumber a new writer with the Carter comparison but perhaps I shouldn’t write it off if you found it helpful. Sometimes, though, I wonder if the person who’s making the comparisons has read the same book as me.

  4. Your review is really tempting me to buy the hardback of Weathering, even though I promised myself I’d read the short stories first, because they’ve been sitting on my TBR shelf for a while now, and I really ought to wait for the paperback to come out!

    1. Oh, dear! It is a wonderful read though, one to savour. I think I need to get a copy of her short stories.

  5. Pingback: Lucy Wood, Weathering (2015) | David's Book World

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