Friday, December 4, 2020

The Weatherhouse - Nan Shepherd

I don't have this book with me at the moment so can't look up the actual quote I want from it, but as well as being one of my favourite books that I read last year, it's also one I've been thinking about a lot over a month of late autumn into winter dog walking.

When I first read it, it reminded me a lot of the Aberdeenshire countryside I knew as a student - it's where the book is set, and so that's how I thought of it from the urban fastness of my city flat. After 4 weeks of going out at least twice a day in all weathers for hours at a time (not fun today - we got to enjoy a particularly icy rain coupled with a strong enough wind to make sure it got everywhere and that an umbrella would be useless) I've got a new appreciation for the brilliance of Shepherd's descriptions of the countryside. 

It's also a book that starts around Christmas time - just after if I remember properly, with a young woman arranging a January Christmas party for children that didn't have one , so the initial descriptions of the countryside are spot on for what I'm seeing now.

There is one particular description I'm thinking of, and will need to look up the quote for when I can - it describes small brown birds flying up from the fields as being like bits of earth flung into the air. Even on a filthy afternoon like todays it's been a pleasure to watch them do just that. Invisible against the ploughed fields they suddenly erupt like so many leaves caught by the wind before showing agency. It really does look like bits of earth suddenly taking wing and life. 

I still don't get a sense of Shepherds two novels (not much more than novellas) are especially popular compared to 'The Living Mountain', and maybe her liberal use of dialect words doesn't help, but The Weatherhouse is well worth the time. I realised after I finished it that there's also a glossary at the back which makes short work of unfamiliar words. 

Looking at some of the more negative amazon reviews I wonder if this book is considered to feminine (it mostly explores the lives of a female dominated community in war time) compared to 'The Living Mountain' which is only really concerned with experiencing the Cairngorms, but even if you're really only interested in the nature writing 'The Weatherhouse' still has a lot to offer. I miss my books. 

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