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 Their affair begins in the winter, but the turning of the season (and the hours) is suspended, apparently superseded by the momentum of passion: ‘the time began when there wasn’t any time… Beyond the glass casing I was in, was the weather, were the winter streets in rain,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.