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A Student of Weather Paperback – Feb 27 2001
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A stranger emerges from the snow-swept prairie, and the moment a young girl touches the "coin of frostbite" on his cheek, she sets off a rivalry that will span 30 years and follow her from the Saskatchewan dust bowl to apple-plenty Ottawa and the humid bustle of New York City. "A child falls in love with a man," the tale goes, "and the man is seduced by the intensity he has generated. Then his attention shifts to something else. End of story." But this is hardly the extent of Elizabeth Hay's Giller-nominated debut novel, A Student of Weather. For when easterner Maurice Dove arrives in parched Willow Bend to study the unusual phenomenon of the Hardy farm's being a veritable "magnet for moisture," he irrevocably disrupts the rhythm of the routine and the hearts of two Hardy sisters: golden Lucinda June and small, dark, unpredictable Norma Joyce.
A Student of Weather is a deftly textured novel about how accidents, in life and weather, impact destiny and how reticence can maim and claim lives. It is about arrivals and leave-takings, forgiveness bestowed then retracted, and the power of artwork to redeem and heal. Hay builds her characters and the world they inhabit from the small details: domestic, elemental, psychological, mythological. The novel's dark luminosity is perfectly embodied by the sisters, whose complex psyches lurk, subdermally, beneath every act, gesture, glance. The saga moves restlessly back and forth across the country, but its true beauty and strength lie in the Saskatchewan sections: the passages describing a seemingly barren grassland teeming with life are like "stepping outside into a burst of liquid birdsong." --Diana Kuprel
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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
It begins in 1938 on a farm in Saskatchewan, Canada with two lonely motherless sisters, nine years apart in age and worlds apart in looks and personality. Norma Joyce is small, dark, wiry, homely, inquisitive, provocative, and restless, while older sister Lucinda is a ravishing redhead, quiet, serene, the hard working homemaker for father and younger sister. Although Norma is just a kid, when Maurice Dove, a 'student of weather' visits the farm, both sisters, each in their own way, fall desperately in love with him, a love to last a lifetime, but with tragic consequences. The presence of Maurice will be the wedge that drives the sisters apart and alters the family fate, although the personality of each character will also determine the outcome of the story, which later shifts to Ottawa and then alternates between Ottawa and New York City.
What makes this novel stand out from the crowd aside from its careful plotting and lovely descriptive passages about foliage, flora, and of course weather, are the ways in which the author makes brilliant use of small details of personality and psychology to drive what would otherwise be an ordinary story into high gear and to create unforgettable complex characters. She gets it right on target, too, so much so, that the reader feels that he/she is a witness to real peoples' lives. This book is one of my top picks of the year!
The tension between the sisters is as old as mankind, and Norma Joyce is unable to do anything but what speaks to her true nature. The sisters peaceful coexistence is threatened by the reality of Maurice, ultimately defining each young woman in unexpected ways.
Norma seems at times driven by her own dark desire, even as a child. Her challenge is to live in a way that is self- rather than other-defining. Her true identity remains in shadow until she learns to walk comfortably through the rooms of her own soul, accepting the limitations of her family's inability to express love.
The texture of this novel is extraordinary. A first-time read is only the beginning; A STUDENT OF WEATHER will take on new incarnations with each reading.
When a student of weather arrives at their home, both Lucinda and Norma Joyce tumble into a love for him, and the story begins there.
Norma Joyce is a wonderful character, and her character is often both a joy and hurtful to read. There is an extreme level of pathos and empathy to this work, and all of it important. The story meanders from Saskatchewan to Ottawa and even to New York as we follow Norma Joyce, and as the secrets of her family are uncovered, and her deceits and kindesses are explored, we find a woman of remarkable iron strength.
For myself, the benchmark of a good solid work of literature will always be a strong character base, and "A Student of Weather" definately has that. Between the Hardys, and the student of weather, Maurice Dove, for which the novel is named, there are no weak characters here. I've re-read my copy a few times, and still find something new to its pages.
If you are at all a fan of recent-historical fiction, or simply a lover of strong characters, especially strong women, then this is a book for you. Elizabeth Hay is a name to watch out for.
A Student of Weather is the story of two sisters in love with the same man. It is the story of Norman Joyce and her unrequited love for Dove, the student of weather. It is the story of how she tries to gain his love and the tragic aftermath of it. It is the story of betrayal to her sister, the lovely Lucinda. Lucinda, the sweet one, but was she?
To me, though, the book is mainly about the language. Ms. Hay can make the drab look beautiful. One passage which held my attention was:
". . . who boasted that his women could survive on the food they licked off the spoon that stirred his pot? A remark she'd come across in a book about the far north, and never forgotten. A fantastic statement; no less so when applied to love."
A story of unrequited love told in moving metaphors.
Most recent customer reviews
Interesting book with some unlikable characters. Held my interest until the very end.Published 2 months ago by sanrom
Hay, in all her novels I have read, has the wonderful capacity to take her readers across a variegated landscape that combines time and distance in a very transforming and... Read morePublished 4 months ago by Ian Gordon Malcomson
A descriptive and absorbing novel. The reader is left with a tangible sense of the vast and unique Saskatchewan prairie landscape.Published 15 months ago by SV
I highly recommend this book. I read it twice-- when it first came out and again for a book club. It lead to great discussion during the book club meeting. Read morePublished on July 2 2006 by Lily B.
It's an interesting experience to encounter a book in which none of the major figures is likeable. Yet that very circumstance is a tribute to Elizabeth Hay's eloquent portrayal of... Read morePublished on Oct. 15 2003 by Stephen A. Haines
If you are in a bookclub, (or just appreciate excellent fiction) this novel would make a wonderful choice. Read morePublished on Aug. 6 2001 by J. Fercho
Setting her story in the Saskatchewan Dust Bowl in the 1930's, where "children grew up never tasting an apple and thinking Ontario was heaven," Hay tells of Norma Joyce and her... Read morePublished on July 22 2001 by Mary Whipple