I had read one of Nan Shepherd’s books before coming to The Weatherhouse. The Living Mountain is a glorious meditation upon the natural world, and I very much admired the way in which Shepherd’s descriptions were able to build such a full picture of the Cairngorms, which she so adored. The Weatherhouse was my first foray into her fiction.
The Weatherhouse takes place in a small fictitious town in Scotland named Fetter-Rothnie. Many of the men have left in pursuit of war, and the women who remain have become accustomed to living in a female-dominated community. As in The Living Mountain, the sense of place is built vividly from the outset, and Shepherd’s imagery is beautiful. She writes, for instance: ‘On the willows by the pool the catkins were fluffed, insubstantial, their stamens held so lightly to the tree that they seemed like the golden essence of its life escaping to the liberty of air.’
Shepherd’s portrayal of the women who live in Fetter-Rothnie is fascinating in its shrewdness. Of one of her protagonists, she writes: ‘She did not know human pain and danger. She thought she did, but the pain she knew was only her own quivering hurt. Her world was all her own, she its centre and interpretation; and she had even a faint sweet contempt for those who could not enter it.’
The use of Scotch dialect is effective, but it did feel a touch overdone and impenetrable for the English reader in places. The fact that some of the language used was rather old-fashioned did not aid me at all in being able to translate it, I must admit. This unfortunately prohibited me from connecting with, or understanding, the characters, which was a real shame, and it certainly affected my reading of the novel.
I feel a little disappointed by The Weatherhouse; for me, it just did not reach the heights that I was expecting. Whilst the descriptions were lovely, and often quite original, the general prose verged on lacklustre, saturated as it was with details that did not interest me. It did feel as though Shepherd lost focus at times, and the whole did not come together in a way which I felt was either creative or satisfactory. Perhaps this is my own fault; The Weatherhouse is the second part of Shepherd’s Grampian Quartet, which I was not aware of when beginning this particular novel.