The Weather in the Streets picks up ten years after we first met Olivia in Invitation to the Waltz. In the meantime, she married, and separated, from a man called Igor. She now lives in London together with cousin Etty. Sadder and thinner, but I wouldn’t say pessimistic, she travels back to her parental house after receiving a phone call that her father is gravely ill. On the train she encounters Rollo Spencer by chance, the man with whom she shared a brief moment on the balcony in Invitation to the Waltz. They fall in love, despite the fact that Rollo, too, is married. This books traces their love affair from its first moments, to the whirlwind of clandestine meetings, and onto the rather harsh confrontation with the realities and hurt that come with the role of being “the other woman.”
I cannot quite decide if The Weather in the Streets is better than Invitation to the Waltz. It is definitely a lot more depressing and not as lightweight in its descriptions as the previous book about Olivia was in stages. I’m trying to come up with the proper words to describe how I experienced reading this book, but I find I fail to make any coherent story out of them. So please forgive me for that.
The first 150-or-so pages of The Weather in the Streets reminded me of Invitation to the Waltz a lot. It has a similar setting, pace, and the same, what I can only define as, Bridget Jones-like way of having Olivia act and reflect on her feelings, and the mistakes she makes. I know the latter comparison probably won’t go over well with many, but there’s something about Olivia, the way she isn’t easy on herself, but also remains a flicker of humour when she talks about her sufferings, that reminded me of Bridget Jones. Except that, of course, Olivia finds herself in much more serious circumstances, and this book has a more serious setting and tone overall.
Perhaps it is the fact that this novel is so much longer (around 380 pages) that made my attention wander a little. I couldn’t quite interest myself as much in the actual affair between Rollo and Olivia. Perhaps another reason can be found in the fact that I often struggle with adultery in novels. However, I will say that Olivia’s account of her affair for the first time made me feel more sympathy for “the other woman”, something I wouldn’t have thought possible to feel as much of.
What remains from Invitation to the Waltz and is, I think, developed much better, is the social commentary. Exactly because of the social difference between Rollo and Olivia, his rich family, and Olivia’s lesser circumstances with the disgrace of a failed marriage on top, Olivia is able to reflect on them. Moreover, her more arty friends provide a good contrast to Rollo’s family setting, while Olivia never really feels satisfied with both. Most of all though, this social commentary can be found in the small details, or even the small remarks or thoughts of Olivia. They are easy to miss, but also very entertaining to read.
What made me care in the middle of feeling my attention wander at times, was [spoilers, highlight to read] the description of Olivia’s pregnancy and abortion. Lehmann’s descriptions of Olivia’s feelings, her struggles with wanting to bear Rollo a child but knowing it wouldn’t make him happy, her realisation that “the other woman” was all she was ever going to be, and that therefore she had no right and no future to offer the child, and then the painfully detailed scenes of Olivia’s collapse and sickbed after having had an abortion. [/spoilers] Add to that the realisation that in 1936, I’m sure to write about such a subject, as a relatively normal and regular occurrence, wouldn’t have been completely socially acceptable. It were these personal tensions described, but also the political hiding behind, that made me appreciate Olivia’s story again, as I did during the first 150 pages.
The Weather in the Streets divided me a little. On the one hand, I feel it may be the more accomplished of the novels about Olivia. The prose feels the same, but is more emotionally moving at certain points. And in its description of a longer episode in Olivia’s life, I feel that I have received a more complete picture. On the other hand, from the very start you know the story is going to be more bleak. If Invitation to the Waltz has the dreamy atmosphere of a seventeen-year-old still on the threshold of many opportunities, The Weather in the Streets is a realistic, and sometimes pessimistic, realisation that life never is what you dream it would be. It has a more confrontational quality to it. This does not make it a work less worthy of attention, but it does make for a novel that is more difficult to pick up and read, at times.
After reading two novels of Rosamond Lehmann in the past month, I am eagerly awaiting to read some of her other novels. Luckily, I do own one other by her, The Echoing Grove, as well the autobiographically based The Swan in the Evening. I also have Selina Hasting’s biography of Lehmann sitting on my shelves. To be honest though, I am most curious about reading Dusty Answer, which seems to be a favourite of so many bloggers.
I read The Weather in the Streets for Miss Darcy’s Library’s Rosamond Lehmann Reading Week. It is not too late to join in! Click on over to her blog for much more on the author and her fiction.
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