- Hardcover: 364 pages
- Publisher: Counterpoint; First Edition edition (February 1, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 158243123X
- ISBN-13: 978-1582431239
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 8.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 32 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,915,000 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Student of Weather Hardcover – February 19, 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
"Two sisters fell down the same well, and the well was Maurice Dove." Acclaimed Canadian short story writer Hay's first novel, recently shortlisted for the prestigious Giller Prize, is a compelling and highly original debut telling the story of two sisters and the jealousy that irrevocably changes their lives when a young student comes to stay on their father's Saskatchewan farm in the 1930s. Ernest Hardy is widowed, a single father raising two young girls on the rural prairies, when twenty-something Maurice Dove arrives from Ottawa to study the region's unusual weather patterns. Eight-year-old Norma Joyce, dark, fiercely intelligent, and inflicted with early puberty, claims Maurice from the first moment she sees him, albeit unrequitedly. Her sister, the "beautiful, saintly" Lucinda, 17, falls deeply in love. After Maurice leaves and his letters stop coming, Lucinda suffers a two-month-long deep depression. Seven years later, the sisters cannot forget Maurice. The Hardy family inherits a relative's house and moves to Ottawa, on the same block as the Dove family home. What occurs between then teenaged Norma Joyce (who will likely invite comparisons to Rhoda Penmark of The Bad Seed) and the war-damaged Maurice brings to light a childhood betrayal significant enough to devastate everyone involved. Moving seamlessly through 30 years in Saskatchewan, Ottawa and New York City, Hay's novel offers up just the right combination of melodrama and melancholy. Already a best seller in Canada, it should soar this side of the border, too.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Canadian author Hay's first novel begins on a Depression-era farm in Saskatchewan. The Hardy sisters, Norma Joyce and Lucinda, live with their widowed father. The sisters are opposites in appearance and in their approach to life. Norma Joyce, the dark, homely sister, is full of intellectual curiosity with artistic abilities, while Lucinda, older, blonde, and beautiful, is quiet and domestic. Thus, in some ways, they are natural rivals. When both fall in love with Maurice Dove, a student who stays with the family to study weather patterns, this unrecognized rivalry leads to mutual betrayals and a sad lack of family affection and understanding that affects the quality of their lives for nearly 30 years. As the story progresses, Hay's lyric descriptions of emotions, the prairie, the weather, and other natural conditions compel the reader's attention to the last page. Recommended for large public and academic libraries. Cheryl L. Conway, Univ. of Arkansas Lib., Fayetteville
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Two sisters, living with their widowed father, are a study of opposites. Seventeen-year-old Lucinda is lovely, tall, titian-haired, pliable, hard-working, dutiful, and light; nine-year-old Norma Joyce is small, dark, complicated, rebellious, passionate, odd-looking, and sullenly intelligent.
"She [Norma Joyce] was foliage in the wrong place, a jumble of weeds growing out of someone's back."
Beginning on a farm in the Prairie Dust Bowl of 1930's Canada, the story spans thirty years and takes the reader on a looping journey to Saskatchewan, Ottawa, and New York. The farm that Ernest Hardy lives on with his two daughters in Saskatchewan is the oasis in the drought, "a spot of dew in a dry field, a small hill that attracted rain and snow when nothing fell anywhere else."
The Hardy farm is single magnet for moisture in this bone-dry, punishing, skin-splitting, dust-laden community.
"...dust blew the paint off cars, settled on food while you ate, landed in your mouth while you slept, choked cattle in the fields, and muffled the calls of lost children. So much dust blown so far that it landed on ships in the middle of the Atlantic."
A handsome stranger would arrest the girls' hearts, driving one of them to obsession. Stepping out of a blizzard and into their lives is the handsome, prepossessing Maurice Dove, an Ottawa student studying weather and botany. He lodges with the Hardys on three separate occasions in one year, enchanting Lucinda, bewitching and educating Norma Joyce with his comprehensive knowledge of nature.
Lucinda's maternal nature blossomed in Maurice's presence. She cooked and cleaned with an almost Gertrudian fervor, tucking away dreams like the corners of sheets.
"By the time Maurice was ready to leave, Lucinda would be interested. This was her pattern: tugging carefully at every knot, pressing the wrapping paper flat, saving everything for future use, including her own anticipation."
But Norma Joyce has already reached out to touch his cheek and claim him immediately, believing that boldness counts for more than beauty. She's the shadow girl, the dark side of the moon. She thinks that stealthy intrusions will draw him closer. Maurice indulges in Lucinda's beauty and moist sponge cakes, while he instructs Norma Joyce in climate and history, acknowledging that she is a natural, gifted student.
Hay's metaphorical raveling of landscape and psyche is nothing short of phenomenal. The narrative winds its way through the inner and outer wilderness of the Hardy's lives as the story deepens into the musk and mead of their quiddity.
"Maybe Lucinda's beauty captivated the rain. Or--this thought occurred to him later--maybe the dark, unpredictable sister was the source of all the weather."
There are layers to peel and subtextual strata to mine. Sexual undertones and overtones impregnate the story, a sensuous pollen permeating the prose.
"The leaf's lower part is a split sheath wrapped tightly around the stem so it won't tear in the wind...The underside of the leaves have very few pores; in dry weather they roll up like waterproof tubes to hold in every precious drop of water vapour. As beautifully engineered, he says with a wink, as Claudette Colbert's nifty legs. Slender-tipped, smooth, loose and open, lax at flowering time, puberulent."
The story builds with intensity and eroticism, invoking shattering acts of betrayal and avid, tormented love. There are grains of The Thorn Birds and Gone with the Wind, but the erudition and subtlety far eclipses either novel. Also, Hay avoids the pitfalls of melodrama and ripens the story with nuanced authenticity. She is a master of detail, describing a word or a concept with filmic transcendence, turning every seed into a flower. There are also vestiges of Possession, another book of painful, incinerating love, and botany.
This is a also companion piece to her latest novel, Alone in the Classroom. The author has recurring themes and motifs that deepen the reading experience when both books are read. The suggestion that we carry the past forward undulates through both novels, as do early childhood tragedies. The relationship between student and teacher, parent and child, and the value of education--including the study of the natural world--is explored in both tales. I won't give detailed specifics away, as the joy of discovery heightens the pleasure.
Every passage is sui generis; every page is brimming with beauty and contrast. This is an extraordinary coming of age story, a novel of survival and redemption, a tale of two sisters and three cities, an unforgettable, incomparable story of deep forbearance and clemency.
I have always been attracted to character-driven books. However, it is always the beauty of language that most engages, captivates and ultimately haunts me. To state that Elizabeth Hay is a master of language, somehow, does not suffice. She is so much more than that. She is a poet, a lyricist, a magician and then some. The prose shimmers and glows, it stuns the mind and heart.
`A Student of Weather' is an accessible read. One is immediately experiencing life in 1938 in Saskatchewan. We are instantaneously living with the family Hardy. Lucinda is approximately a decade older than Norma Joyce. Their father, Ernest Hardy, is a taciturn farmer who lives up to being both `ernest' and `hardy.' The climate is dry, and there is dust everywhere. It is gritty, and we feel the grit, we feel everything. Senses become acute to weather, to landscape, and to people, their feelings, as well as their motives.
Maurice Dove, a stranger, arrives. He charms both sisters, and trouble ensues. He lacks a moral compass.
This book, in many ways, was reminiscent of Dickens in some of its characters. For example, there are Mrs. Hulder and Mrs. Gallot. Then there is Mrs. Dove, Maurice's mother. Secondary characters though they are, they are nonetheless important.
We move from Saskatchewan to Ottawa and even experience life in New York City.
Lucinda is clearly the beautiful sister, but Norma Joyce is the interesting sister. She is many things, but she is always fascinating. She is unrelenting in her pursuits.
This is, at once, an extravagant yet economical book. It is one of the most unforgettable books that I have ever read. It contains so much beauty, tragedy, and more. This book is truly one about life, how we experience it, and how we live it.
I do not often do this, but I ordered `Alone In The Classroom' once I read approximately one-hundred pages of `A Student of Weather.' I knew that I was in the presence of an unusually talented writer.
If you like character-driven fiction that both breaks the heart and makes it sing, this is a must read.
I must thank my good Amazon friends for alerting me to this book. It was Switterbug who knew that I would fall in love with this type of literature, and I am in her debt.