I 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.