A Student of Weather – a review

I finished reading A Student of Weather by Elizabeth Hay last night. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I enjoyed her other novel, Late Nights on Air, but it was still quite good. Exceptional, in fact, for a first novel. It pleased me to no end that not only did a large portion of the book take place in Ottawa, it took place in a part of Ottawa that I know well – the square of the city bordered by Bank Street, Bronson Ave, the canal, and the Rideau River. This familiar landscape wasn’t my chief source of pleasure in the book, but it was definitely a bonus.

The author’s writing is strong and her story is compelling. Perhaps most importantly, the protagonist is a sympathetic character. Even at the points (there were several) when I groaned and said to myself, “She’s not really going to do that, is she?” I could still understand and relate to her decisions. Love doesn’t just make us crazy sometimes; sometimes it makes us wilfully ignorant or just plain stupid. We all know this, but it’s hard to write such a flawed, human character without making her pathetic or one dimensional. Elizabeth Hay pulled it off well. Actually, now that I think about it, she did much the same with the protagonist in Late Nights on Air. H’mmm. I wouldn’t have recognized that if I hadn’t sat down to write this review. Oh, also – she’s good at writing both male and female characters convincingly, which is an exceedingly rare talent and one I admire above almost any other fiction writing skill.

An excerpt from the ending that I’m particularly fond of:

She has worked her way into the heaven of her childhood. Ontario, and all it means. This is where it took so long to “make the land” – three generations to clear two hundred acres of trees and stumps and stones. This is where weary listeners fell for those mythical tales about the Canadian west – how you could plough a furrow a mile long without even striking a stone, how the feet of oxen were stained red by all the wild strawberries, how the light, dry, spicy air restored the feeblest person to health. This is the place they returned to, some of them, after drought and dust did them in.

That is the Ontario I know and love. It was the heaven of my childhood, too. Sometimes, in my depths of vulnerability and doubt, it still is.

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4 Responses

  1. Thanks, Pebbles!

  2. […] the Eastern Ontario landscape as much as I do.  And she nails it, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere.  I can smell the pine needles and feel the scraggly pink granite under my bare feet when I read […]

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