“Hine up on the head of the house like Garry Forbes and his twa fools.” –The Weatherhouse by Nan Shepherd
Nan Shepherd was a Scottish writer with only three novels to her name. Writing in the period between World Wars I and II, she focuses on the beauty of landscape and the lives of women during a period when the world was perched precariously between conflicts. She is concerned with the clash between old and young, tradition and modernity. and her great love for the land she lived in and the people who inhabited it comes across in all of her works. I read her first novel, The Quarry Wood, immediately before The Weatherhouse, and while both are impressive in different ways, the latter is her masterpiece.
The Weatherhouse is a book about the dangers of getting caught in one’s own imaginings. Louie Morgan pretends that a man who died was her fiancé, She goes so far as to steal a ring to add weight to her own fantasy. At various points, she is found acting out scenes by herself, in which she stars and imagines scores of men in love with her. Middle-aged Ellen Falconer invents a romance involving her stolid, practical daughter, Kate, and eventually realizes that she wasn’t precisely focused on Kate, that she had in fact put herself at the center of it all, in love with a young man who barely acknowledges her existence. It is a story about how fiction can entangle one’s senses and lead one astray.
In the midst of it all, there is still hope and humanity. Young Stella Ferguson had a conversation with Ellen Falconer that stays with her for the rest of her life and acts as a positive force for her. The writer knows the impact small moments can have, moments we might not even remember days from now, but which have meaning for others. Ellen is not respected by her own family, the Craigmyles, who inhabit the Weatherhouse. However, Stella could see the inner light that made Ellen great and showed her tribute with “hardy yellow scotch roses.”
There is also Garry Forbes, who has returned from the war because of severe shell-shock. While trying to repair his aunt’s house after a fire, he is also battling Louie Morgan’s claims. He was friends with David, the man Louie says she was engaged to, and he cannot imagine that David was in love with her. Yet, in the course of the novel and of his relationship with Lindsay, a relative of the Craigmyles who is staying with them in the Weatherhouse, he learns sympathy. He realizes that Louie is as fragile emotionally as he is and no longer wants to expose her for being a liar, although it happens anyway.
In the list of writers of the interwar period, Nan Shepherd’s name is often excluded. She is not as famous as her work warrants. Nonetheless, for those who have found and appreciate her, she remains a writer whose work evokes the Scottish landscape and whose characters stay with the reader long after finishing her books.