Weatherland by Alexandra Harris is a sweeping panorama and magic carpet ride through the history of England using a quirky weathervane to measure the changing culture – the weather.
Author Alexandra Harris’ debut book won The Guardian’s Book of the Year. It’s no surprise either because this is a far-reaching, expansive book written in an engaging, poetic and erudite way.
Harris casts her curious eye and nimble mind over how weather has been portrayed since ancient times in literature and art in Britain.
In the times before the Norman Conquest, the Anglo-Saxons were living in a wintry and cold world where danger hemmed them in from all sides by invaders. During the more stable farming times of the Middle-Ages, the language and art becomes a little more rosy, with a lot of literary chatter about cuckoos, blossoms and the augurs of thunder. One of my personal favourite bits is the medieval rhyming calendar of the agrarian year, which I have already swiped out of the book and written about on this blog.
This book is beautifully written and introduces some ancient authors and texts that I would never have otherwise read like Beowulf or Chaucer. There are some unusual and quirky insights into the people of different times in history, how they thought of themselves in relation to their environment and how their inner worlds were a reflection of what they saw outside of their windows. This is perfect for Anglophiles and fans of English history, art and literature. It’s populated by the strong voices and distinctive personalities from history like the Shelleys, Ruskin, Shakespeare, Keats, Wordsworth and more.
The prose is tight, imaginative, deliciously inventive. You are swept along as though you’re reading a great fictional novel. This is no prosaic story of a mundane subject. Instead it’s a majestic and all-encompassing history of England as a whole, and it’s beautiful. I relished every page and was sad when it ended.
The conclusion is suitably ominous. Harris cautions that we have arrived “at a critical juncture in the story of weather. Unless decisive action is taken very soon, the next generation will see the last of the weather we know.” Well worth a read for anyone who is a fan of English history, medieval history, quirky facts, the English countryside, English literature or if you are an Anglophile. 4.8*/5