Book Review: Weatherland by Andrea Harris

Book Review: Weatherland by Andrea Harris

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

Book Review: Weatherland by Andrea Harris
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10 thoughts on “Book Review: Weatherland by Andrea Harris

  1. I enjoyed the author’s trailer. Vivid body language, the palpable love of her subject, and the great story about the rain dampening her notes. Although he is not English, maybe an option for the “ominous conclusion” is already mapped out in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road? You review a fascinating spread of topics. Looking forward to more.

    1. Aww thank you, I am so glad you like my stuff, and also that you enjoy the personal stuff I write too. Yes I think perhaps as you say, the ominous conclusion could be taken from the Road, or from the Handmaid’s Tale or any other bleak possibility. Although the inner optimist in me has to keep believing that the good, fair and kind of human nature will win out in the end. Lovely to hear from you and hope you have a great weekend, take care 🙂

  2. Great review! That book would have been perfect for me but what I probably need right now is less England and not more 🙂 I will keep this book for future reference and reading because the subject is fascinating and I like how it touches on literature and history. Everything in some way is “measured” by weather in England, I suppose – it being the “safest” topic for strangers’ conversation and the one thing that is certain in the country, apart from “death and taxes”, is that weather will change radically about ten times during one single day.

    1. Thanks so much for that Diana, I am so glad you enjoyed this review. I know what you mean with England, you live there right? I suppose it would be too much if you actually live there. I used to live in the UK for several years and miss the nature a lot so this book gave me a lovely trip down memory lane. Yes, this intersection between literature, history and folklore is absolutely fascinating I agree. It seems it is a national pastime in England to talk about the weather too hehe. I think you will love this one! It’s worth getting a physical copy rather than a kindle book as the images in it are really beautiful too, as it’s a Taschen book which I believe is an art book publisher, so it’s very visual too. Hope you enjoy it! Have a lovely weekend and chat soon 🙂

      1. Does anyone really “live” in England? 🙂 I thought they simply “suffer” through it here and save their salaries so they can really live very briefly under the blue skies elsewhere? hehe I will definitely get that physical copy then especially since it is Taschen publications!

      2. Haha I guess that you endure and suffer through it then right? As a person who has lived under blue skies in New Zealand, even that can get boring too. Give me an atmospheric and stormy cloud formation any day
        Perhaps just like with hair styles, you always long for what you don’t have hehe. I got it wrong it’s Thames and Hudson, not Taschen, it’s a pretty popular book so should be easy to find 😉

      3. Yeah, as this saying that the grass always appears greener on the other side. I love Thames and Hudson publications too – they are always beautiful, too, so thanks!

  3. 4.8 stars?? Go on, give it 5! Hehe. My own experience of England has almost no memory of decent weather so this might be a stretch for me! I did love ‘cider with Rosie’ though- very much set in elements of the British countryside.

    1. Yeah it’s grey a lot there and can be a bit depressing over the winter. I guess I miss the UK in some weird way, but more so the Isle of Skye and highlands of Scotland. I think you have mentioned Cider with Rosie before on your blog and how you loved it, sounds like a good book.

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