Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Bibliotherapy: what to read in a British summer



The weather, as we all know, is an abiding British preoccupation, particularly at this time of year; and though it is a truism that we talk about the weather for want of anything better to discuss, or as a means of evasion or self-defence, it is also central to our psyche. This much, and more, is evident in ‘The Weather in the Streets’, Rosamond Lehmann’s fourth novel, which takes up the story of Olivia Curtis, a decade after she appeared as the heroine of the coming-of-age classic, ‘Invitation to the Waltz’.

As the title suggests, the weather is as integral to the unfolding tale as its other central character, Rollo Spencer, Olivia’s handsome, rich married lover. Their affair begins in the winter, but the turning of the season (and the hours) is suspended, apparently superseded by the momentum of passion: ‘the time began when there wasn’t any time… Beyond the glass casing I was in, was the weather, were the winter streets in rain, wind, fog.’ But when summer is upon the lovers, the weather is impossible to shut out behind closed doors or glass. In the sunshine of July, after some weeks apart, Rollo visits Olivia at a country cottage in Oxfordshire: ‘Alone together all the afternoon. Oh, at last!… It was so still, we heard the hot bees burning in the rosemary. The blind knocked, knocked. Through it the violent afternoon light was purple, almost black.’ Afterwards, they swim in the river, where the ‘westering sun was spilled all over the water’; later, in the warm darkness, ‘stars pricked the blue-iris air.’

The weather cannot always be forecast with accuracy, and nor can affairs of the heart; all that is certain is that time passes, implacably, as does the summer. Rollo returns to his wife, Olivia to London, to the dog days of August: ‘To be alone… in this dry, sterile, burnt-out end of summer… among stains and smells, odds and ends of refuse and decay.’

Olivia, like Rosamond Lehmann herself, and so many of her readers, has not loved wisely, but even as the relationship with Rollo seems to come to its unhappy ending, yet there is a new beginning; for the weather, like a woman, has a will all of its own.

14 comments:

Knitting Out Loud said...

Lovely review! My favorite Simenon, Maigret Goes Home, has the dignified Maigret sticking his tongue out to catch a snowflake. I also love the "glass casing" quote. Like The Bell Jar. Hope you had a good vacation.

kairu said...

Lovely! I will finish Invitation to a Waltz before I read this one, but I will add it to the queue.

I hope you had a good holiday, Justine. I spent my week on the sofa, watching movies.

harriet said...

I so love The Weather in the Streets. Funny, sad, very true to the way human beings feel and behave. Nice review, thanks.

Justine Picardie said...

Thanks for the comments. I love Rosamond Lehmann -- she writes so perceptively about the differences between men and women, as well as the desire; about our need to be understood by another, despite those profound differences.
I keep returning to her novels, and they always feel new, perhaps because their multiple layers emerge as one grows older.
Back to Coco now...

enid said...

Thanks Justine I hope you had a lovely holiday. I look forward to reading The Weather in the Streets even though we are having an awful winter.

Victoria said...

I was given "Invitation to the walz" on my 17th birthday andd read it in a scorching summer so I always associate the two..... I then read "The Weather in the streets" and found it so sad, all the innocent hope gone.
Another book I always want to reread in summer is "I capture the castle" by Dodi Smith, it evokes a never ending English summer so perfectly - Cassandra sunbathing on the castle ruins alone as her sister shops for her trousseau in town.

kairu said...

I stayed up late last night to read Invitation to a Waltz, and got up early this morning to finish it. A beautiful book, one that brought back all too clearly the exquisite agonies and ecstasies of being seventeen. I would not go back to that time, not to my young self in a slim column of black crepe bound at the neck and straps with black satin, my hair falling in wavy curls past my waist. But it was pure pleasure to read, and remember.

Justine Picardie said...

I'm so glad other people have enjoyed these novels -- and as for returning to our younger selves, I'd quite like to be able to visit myself as a girl for a couple of hours -- like a ghost from the future, returning to the past.
As for I Capture The Castle -- I was just quoting it today in a column I've been writing for the Sunday Telegraph. It's the perfect summer read, though equally wonderful in winter. Like Lehmann, Dodie Smith understands the weather (of our hearts, as well as the skies).

enid said...

what about The Summer Book by Tove Jansen - a wonderful read.

Justine Picardie said...

Definitely. In fact, I wrote a bibliotherapy column about it a while ago -- it's buried somewhere in the depths of this blog.

fluffy said...

Justine I have just found your blog thru Bloomsbury and having just paid my 12 year old daughter to read I capture the Castle which I am thrusting into a case for Greece this minute I felt such synchronicity re Rosamund Lehman too as I am about to reread Invitation to the Waltz in Greece. Will never forget Rollo in Weather in Streets -he personifies just what every girl needs to trip over and pick herself up from in life. Best to you, have a lovely summer, and look out please, I am starting a blog soon - no idea how to tell every one! Raffaella Barker x

colleen said...

Thank you. I'v been unable to read anything for weeks and this may be the antidote.

simoncadbury said...

In 1928, Lehmann married Wogan Philipps, an artist. They had two children, a son Hugo (1929-1999) and a daughter Sarah or Sally (1934-1958), but the marriage quickly fell apart during the late Thirties with her Communist husband leaving to take part in the Spanish Civil War.

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