A Student of Weather by Elizabeth HayA Student of Weather by Elizabeth Hay

A Student of Weather

byElizabeth Hay

Paperback | February 27, 2001

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From some accidents of love and weather we never quite recover. At the worst of the Prairie dust bowl of the 1930s, a young man appears out of a blizzard and forever alters the lives of two sisters. There is the beautiful, fastidious Lucinda, and the tricky and tenacious Norma Joyce, at first a strange, self-possessed child, later a woman who learns something of self-forgiveness and of the redemptive nature of art. Their rivalry sets the stage for all that follows in a narrative spanning over thirty years, beginning in Saskatchewan and moving, in the decades following the war, to Ottawa and New York City. Disarming, vividly told, unforgettable, this is a story about the mistakes we make that never go away, about how the things we want to keep vanish and the things we want to lose return to haunt us.
Elizabeth Hay is the author of two highly acclaimed, bestselling novels. Her first novel, A Student of Weather (2000), won the CAA MOSAID Technologies Inc. Award for Fiction and the TORGI Award, and was a finalist for The Giller Prize, the Ottawa Book Award, and the Pearson Canada Reader’s Choice Award at The Word on the Street. Her mo...
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Title:A Student of WeatherFormat:PaperbackDimensions:376 pages, 8.39 × 5.41 × 0.71 inPublished:February 27, 2001Publisher:McClelland & StewartLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0771037902

ISBN - 13:9780771037900

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Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Stunning This was a stunningly beautiful and compulsive read. Her imagery and her evocation of Ontario brought back bittersweet memories from this, my hometown. I highly recommend this read for its multi-layered, well-drawn characters and the spirited heroine who conveys strength and vulnerability. I could not put this novel down!!!
Date published: 2005-06-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Stunningly Beautiful This is the most beautifully written book I have ever read. Elizabeth Hay has an incredible gift for writing prose that reads like poetry. The whole novel is like a song, with concise and meticulously chosen words. Her imagery is inventive and effective, and the way in which she weaves her story through time is astounding. At first, it seems that she is foreshadowing future events, but it becomes clear that the story is woven in many deeper layers. In other words, it is more multi-dimensional than simple foreshadowing. This is a book that gets better with multiple readings, as the real draw is Hay's exquisite craftsmanship, rather than the surface plot. Also, if you ever have a chance to hear her read her own work, do no pass up the opportunity - when she reads from this book, it sounds like the most lyrical poetry, and she will have you hanging on every word. Go buy this book immediately.
Date published: 2004-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worth reading This was a great book, beautifully written and descriptive. Worth the read!
Date published: 2003-11-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worth the read! This was a great book, I got hooked from the very beginning. Beautifully written and descriptive, definately worth the read!
Date published: 2003-10-29

Bookclub Guide

1. Throughout the novel, Hay draws parallels between weather and love. Both are unpredictable, changeable, and have the potential for extremes. How does the love affair between Norma Joyce and Maurice reflect these qualities?2. By making numerous references to fairy tales such as Sleeping Beauty, Hay suggests that there's an element of enchantment and fatefulness in Norma Joyce's obsession with Maurice. How is their love affair like that traditional tale? In what ways is it a reversal of our expectations?3. Hay writes that "Lucinda sews and dark hairs appear on Norma Joyce. In the morning she looks at herself and feels sewn inside out, threads left hanging by a clumsy child or an ill-intentioned adult" [pp3-4]. How is Norma Joyce's feeling of being a misfit connected to her sister?4. In exploring the relationship between Lucinda and Norma Joyce, Hay refers to biblical stories of sibling rivalry and betrayal, particularly the story of Jacob tricking his father and stealing the blessing intended for his older brother, Esau. In what way do the dynamics between the Hardy sisters resemble that story?5. When Maurice first appears, in the midst of a snowstorm, he notices Lucinda first, but Norma Joyce surprises him by touching his cheek where it's been frostbitten, and "she has the triumph of having surprised him into noticing her" [p6]. How does this incident prefigure the sisters' different ways of seeking his attention?6. Hay writes of Norma Joyce's sneakiness as a child that "By hiding things, then leaving herself open to being caught, she lends a certain drama to everything she does. A certain drama and a certain innocence" [p29]. How does Norma Joyce's concealment of Maurice's letters differ from these earlier transgressions? 7. The stealing of the letters is a major turning point in the story, because it changes the course of events and has lasting repercussions. What are other significant turning points in the narrative?8. The third-person narration is mostly governed by Norma Joyce's point of view, and gives insight into her thoughts and feelings. However, a number of passages are seen through Lucinda's eyes, for instance, when she has her breakdown after Maurice fails to show for her birthday, and she describes "the way disappointment narrowed her world to an isolated ledge on which she sat" [p116]. Later in the book, when she hears of Maurice's return to Ottawa, and debates with Ernest how to tell Norma Joyce, we know her thoughts - "It's the end of my world, she said" [p225], and again, before her accident [pp233-8]. How do these changes in narrative perspective affect our understanding and view of Lucinda?9. The love triangle between Norma Joyce, Lucinda, and Maurice sets the story's events in motion, and its effects are felt for many years afterward. But rivalry also plays a part in the relationships between Norma Joyce, Lucinda, and their father, Ernest; and between the sisters and Norma Joyce's son, Johnny. How similar are the dynamics in these three sets of relationships? How are they different?10. Hay makes references to a number of tragic heroines in literature, including Marie Chapdelaine, Madame Butterfly, and Tess of the D'Urbervilles. In all of these cases, a fateful passion leads to a woman's destruction. How does Norma Joyce differ from these other literary figures?11. Though Norma Joyce and Lucinda both make much of the differences between them, in fact there are also a number of important similarities that emerge over the course of time. Maurice points out to Norma Joyce that she and her sister both "liked to play your cards close to your chest. Neither one of you laughed much" [p260]. What other traits do they share?12. Part of the novel's power is in Hay's vivid descriptions of place, which are both evocative and establish a mood. For instance, she describes the Hardys' neighbourhood in Ottawa as "These big brick houses. These rows of fine, stable, red-brick houses shaded by trees tossing their golden leaves on ground already blessed with flowers and hedges and lawns, the flowers like small trumpets or curly wigs, the hedges as tough as old lace, the lawns as warm in the sun as an old dog" [p121]. This suggests the lushness and settled, prosperous order of Ontario, as compared to the Prairies' parched dryness and extremes. Can you think of other descriptive passages of a landscape reflective of a particular mood or quality?13. Hay uses the repetition of motifs to establish a connection between characters. For instance, Norma Joyce puts her hand on the coin of frostbite on Maurice's cheek [p6]; many years later, she touches infant Johnny's cheek, with its circle of frostbite [p214]. Elsewhere, Lucinda dreams of looking out two windows in a room and seeing a garden in bloom and also buried under snow [p13]. Later, when Norma Joyce realizes that Maurice has lost his feelings for her, after she reveals that she's pregnant, she reflects that "you can pass from summer to winter in someone's mind without ever leaving the room" [p172]. Can you think of other motifs or symbols that recur, and show a link between characters?14. In Norma Joyce's work as a window-dresser, she displays her artistic flair by setting "the overlooked beside the prized" [p217]. Lucinda regards these windows as "a form of magic . . . Even Norma Joyce called them her Cinderella windows" [p219] because they involve transformation, as fairy tales do. Later she becomes "a painter of tiny landscapes and tinier still lifes in wild, gargantuan, abstract expressionist New York" [p247]. How is transformation a key element in these manifestations of her creativity? How do these artworks relate to her childhood collection of stray objects in the corner of her mother's study?15. When Norma Joyce returns to Ottawa to care for Ernest, she recognizes in herself a need for his approval, which she seeks by doing the tasks that Lucinda used to do for him, such as keeping house and baking apple pie. Her hopes are raised, and then bitterly dashed, with his last words. In what way is this pattern like that of her relationship with Maurice?16. Maurice's mother is fiercely protective of him, and tries to shield him from Norma Joyce. Shortly after Johnny's birth, when Mrs. Dove visits "not to claim, but disown" the baby [p209], Norma Joyce wonders "would she ever . . . protect her son as assiduously as Mrs. Dove protected Maurice?" [p210] Later, Maurice suggests taking Johnny to England with him, and Norma Joyce rejects the possibility without discussing it with her son. Is this a similar protectiveness? Is it justified?17. When Ernest challenges Maurice on his view that things work out in the end, in the weather and in history, Maurice responds that there's "not fairness, maybe, but balance. Things go in and out of balance. That's what weather is all about" [p69]. Given that weather is used as a metaphor for love in the novel, is there a "balance" that Norma Joyce achieves in her attitude toward her loved ones?18. Late in the book, Maurice reveals that Lucinda had warned the Doves that Norma Joyce was untrustworthy, secretly undermining her. Norma Joyce reflects that "Knowledge is always surprising and always useful. It never wears out" [p327]. What use does Norma Joyce make of this knowledge?19. When Norma Joyce complains about Ernest's lack of care for her mother's paintings, Mrs. Gallot comments, "Well, people are careless, even with things that matter to them. Sometimes most careless with the things that matter most" [p300]. Can you think of incidents in which this is manifested?20. In one passage about the weather, Hay writes that " . . .what's at play are the forces of attraction and repulsion, in other words, of love. Hot meets cold, and what follows is wind, rain, sap and dew. The sharper the contrast the more there is to see" [p66-7]. In fact, Hay uses contrast and conflict to heighten the dramatic impact of her story. Apart from the central opposition between the sisters, what are other examples of contrast and conflict?21. When Norma Joyce revisits her childhood home, late in the book, she compares her unrequited love affair with Maurice with "the larger one between Saskatchewan and Ontario. Saskatchewan so bitter, tenacious, aware. Ontario so careless and immune. An affair between two landscapes and two histories no less real, and no less ongoing than are certain romances between people" [p350]. In what ways does the relationship between the provinces match this description?

From Our Editors

Acclaimed short story writer Elizabeth Hay writes about two sisters who are traumatized when a man invades their peaceful and pastoral existence on a Saskatchewan farm in the 1950s in A Student of Weather.Hay is also the author of the short story collection Small Change which was short-listed for the Governor General’s Award in 1997.

Editorial Reviews

“There has never been a sister, lover, or daughter like Elizabeth Hay’s haunted Norma Joyce. A Student of Weather is as evocative as Jane Campion’s The Piano in its erotic obsessions and relentless quest for love and art. A sensual treasure.”–Linda Svendsen“Hay exposes the beauty simmering in the heart of harsh settings with an evocative grace that brings to mind Annie Proulx.…I was so moved by Norma Joyce’s painful, haunting journey to wisdom – and Elizabeth Hay’s telling of it – that I wanted to go back to the beginning and start again.”–The Washington Post“This is a book to break (and warm) your heart over and over.…Hay’s language is precise, economical and evocative. In A Student of Weather, every word counts.”–Ottawa Citizen“In stunningly precise and suggestive prose, Hay tells a story of obsession and rivalry.…Hay’s yearning, suffering women have the lit-from-within emotional intensity of D.H. Lawrence’s.…Brilliant.”–Kirkus Reviews (starred review)“A brilliant exploration of the universal themes of pain and betrayal and survival, rendered with such a sure, deft touch that Hay seems to be discovering new literary territory…”–Quill & Quire (starred review)“Be warned! You won’t be able to set this seductive book down until you’ve finished – sadder, wiser, and gladder to be alive.”–Isabel Huggan“In elegant and exacting prose, Elizabeth Hay lays bare the perilous power of love and all that we prefer to keep hidden about ourselves. Unsparing and unsettling, this exceptional first novel shines.”–Diane Schoemperlen“A Student of Weather is complicated, compelling, and beautifully told.”–Maclean’s“Hay’s contemplative yet dramatic ballad to beauty, autonomy, and creativity is akin to the work of Alice Hoffman and Isabel Allende…enthralling.…”–Booklist (starred review)“More than any other forecast, A Student of Weather reads the signs that mark the blessings and curses of persistence.…”–Ottawa Citizen“Hay’s book both captivates and astonishes. Read A Student of Weather and rejoice.”–London Free Press“Compelling and highly original.…”–Publishers Weekly (starred review)“Bad weather erupts and the result is the creation of an unforgettable fictional world.…This is a book to savour, to ponder and to read a second and third time.…A Student of Weather is first-class: heartfelt, with a sureness of touch and beauty of expression rare in fiction today.”–Montreal Gazette “This is a wise book, artful and impressively intelligent.…”–Globe and Mail “Hay has created a character who burrows into your mind and stays there. Norma Joyce is not larger than life, she is life, and she comes to us fully formed in this rich, compelling, satisfying novel.”–National Post“A work of rare beauty and integrity. Hay has created a heroine, Norma Joyce Hardy, who will linger in the mind long after the last chapter ends.”–Ottawa X Press“Elizabeth Hay has intelligence coming out of her fingertips – integrity, insight, and wonder in every paragraph of her writing.…She connects. She stirs and provokes.”–Timothy Findley