My third book review is based on Nan Shepherd’s The Weatherhouse (1930). There is little to find about this novel online, and it wasn’t one that I had heard of before, but it has kept me thinking about it ever since finishing it, so here are some of my thoughts…
Shepherd’s The Weatherhouse is a tale concerning loss, depression, conflict and family values – to say the least. Through a bundle of erratic characters, we are taken to a time when the First World War is coming to its end, which means that those at home are praying for their soldiers to return back to them; food is low, as well as morale and motivation; communities are void of men, and the whole world is facing uncertainty in times ahead.
The novel is based in the fictional village of Fetter-Rothnie; a village lying in north-east Scotland. Shepherd sets the bulk of the story in the springtime, thus creating a striking contrast between the village and the battlefield. Just as a time of rebirth and growth comes around in one area, men are knee-deep in amongst trenches filled to the brim with mud, blood, bodies and all of the most nasty things that can come from conflict.
A few chapters in, we are introduced to Garry Forbes; one of the many soldiers who have been thrown into the war to fight for and defend their country. It is immediately obvious that Garry is suffering from post-traumatic stress and depression as, when he returns home to the beautiful countryside with its nature in bloom, he gets angry and upset at it. Rather than being thankful for this serenity and being joyful to be home, it pushes him to reminisce about the distressing, painful times that he has been forced to experience. Being involved in worldwide war is obviously mentally traumatising as it has the capability and power of completely rendering a person’s mindset, so for Garry to have just left a battlefield and then walk back into tranquillity, it is an overwhelming change which he cannot accept lightly. This is something which continues over the course of the novel as the reader is taken on Garry’s journey of battling with his inner troubles.
Another interesting character that we are exposed to is Ellen. Although the story mainly revolves around Garry for the majority of its pages, Ellen becomes prominent at its closing. Once portrayed as a fantasist, she comes across as obsessed with her imagination and child-like dreams, despite being sixty years old. She is afraid of the real world and desperately searches for a way to improve or escape from her life. Thus, it is liberating when, towards the end of the story, she is suddenly forced to self-recognise and make changes within herself. She experiences a life-changing epiphany that gives her more credibility as a character, and she is definitely one to keep notes on as you progress through the story.
There are also many more characters, each with their own stories and experiences, but Garry and Ellen were the ones who I found most intriguing. I feel inclined to read it all over again to see if I can pick up on anything more about the characters as it is such an intertwined (and, if I dare to say it, difficult!), story that will keep you on your toes.
Yet, to be honest (as I promised I would always be!), I do feel that The Weatherhouse has too many characters. Although they each have their own parts, I cannot find a purpose for each of them being there. It makes the novel much more tricky to read and understand, and it could have served the same message with fewer characters. Furthermore, the first two chapters of the book are a bit of a snoozefest – I found myself struggling to keep on reading until Garry was introduced. Just bare that in mind, and try to keep going until you’re past it!
Overall, The Weatherhouse is a novel which can give you an insight to a time of distress, trauma and loss. Its range of eccentric characters means that it is a different take on the war than most other fictional novels, and it is interesting to see how Scottish fiction deals with this time in history. It encapsulates Modern Scottish fiction as a whole, I feel, in its battle between reality and romance, or fiction and fantasy. Yet, this book isn’t one for a quick, light read as any humour and pleasure is almost completely absent from it, but it can be one to get you thinking back to a time of tension and insecurity in the world. Also, beware of the Scottish dialogue – it even had me confused at some parts, and I’m born and bred Scottish! Nevertheless, it’s one which has kept me thinking about it as it bursts with themes and issues, and I do think that it’s worth a read.
Have you read The Weatherhouse? What did you think of it?
Here’s a link to my copy of the book: //ws-eu.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=GB&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=rachaelreads-21&marketplace=amazon®ion=GB&placement=1782118861&asins=1782118861&linkId=af7bcdfa320cfcaf0cb95d993b0fd9b7&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff
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