'Weathering' by Lucy Wood is a lovely, though slightly disturbing book, a combination of family saga and ghost story. It made me think of a couple of things; Sick Notes by Gwendoline Riley because of the physical reaction that I had to the book, the intense and repetitive descriptions of the cold left me wanting to cuddle up to the radiator, and All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wylde because of the way it was about a woman alone, isolated, trying to forge her life without relying on others, and the harshness of the rural environment.
This is the story of Ada and her young daughter Pepper, returning to the family home after the death of Ada's mother, Pearl. They have lived an insecure, itinerant lifestyle, partly because it just seems to be a family trait, and they arrive at the house with the intention of 'doing it up' to sell and then move on again. Ada is determined to keep to herself and not linger any longer than absolutely necessary in the place that she spent her childhood yearning to escape, but somehow things conspire to make it much more complicated than she had anticipated. While they battle the rising damp and the temperamental wood burner Pepper potters around with her grandmother's old camera and tries to befriend the cat, and Ada finds herself sucked back into the life of the local community. Becoming the embodiment of the river that in life was her source of endless fascination the ghost of the long suffering and long neglected Pearl, unable to find rest, drags herself back into the house to observe and comment on the struggles of her daughter and granddaughter.
It is a very poetic book, with lengthy passages just describing the movement of the river. The cold and bleakness seems to completely dominate the book; in one passage the past life of Pearl and Ada is recounted but gives details only of what happened each winter, as if the warmth of summer did not exist in their life. The strange, slightly distant relationship between Pearl and Ada seems to be inevitably recreating itself between Ada and Pepper. They deal with the practicalities of life but refrain from talking at all about what they might be thinking. All three of them seem remarkably matter of fact about their privations; the word stoic seems the most apt description. In spite of what might appear to be standoffishness the warmth of both long standing friends (Luke, a sometime suitor of Pearl, and Judy, her childhood friend) and newfound ones (Tristan) manages to work it's way into their lives. The characters are nicely complex, each with their own troubles and concerns, but bonded together by the shared experience of the harsh winter snow. The writing is just beautiful, with exquisite little moments that are ripe with symbolism; here Pepper has discovers from Pearl's ghost that she has no film in the camera:
"'Nobody told me!' Pepper shouted. She looked in the empty compartment one more time and tried to remember all the things she'd taken pictures of but she couldn't, they were lost, and she couldn't even look for them because they had never really existed." (p.109)
And this lovely and poignant moment when Ada is leaving home, neither of them able to say what they are thinking:
"'See you soon, OK?' Ada said.
Still they waited. The cold draught. The car idling outside the door. Pearl slipped a rolled-up twenty inside Ada's bag. Then opened the door because if she didn't no one would. Said what she said when she was setting up a picture, when the image wasn't aligned, when she just needed to refocus the thing so that she could see it properly. 'There you go then. There you go.' Watched the closed door for a long time." (p.129)
Another tale of the human need for connection, and how difficult people sometimes find it, the fear of being betrayed or let down too acute. I liked it because it didn't wrap up all neat and tidy, life is not neat and tidy, human beings are messy creatures, we all muddle through. When the tide of chaos rises like floodwaters we wait for them to recede, then pick ourselves up again and carry on.