This was a pleasant surprise. One of the author’s more obscure books, The Weather at Tregulla was the next to be published after A Pink Front Door. Despite the unpromising title and an unenticing first chapter, this novel turned out to be a good read and quite unusual because the setting is Cornwall, rather than London.
We begin with the predicament of 19-year-old Una, whose dream of leaving the hamlet of Tregulla behind to study drama in London is taken away when her mother dies and leaves no money. Her father does not know how to deal with her and spends most of his time drinking whiskey and growing violets. Life becomes less mundane when a brother and sister, Terence and Emmeline, rent a cottage close by. Una finds herself falling in love with Terence, who only cares for his painting. Meanwhile, Una’s best friend Barnabas, a Navy officer, is entranced by Emmeline. However, the newcomers bring friends with them, a constantly arguing working-class artist couple who are going to cause trouble.
I would describe this novel as a tragi-comedy. There are some very amusing moments but it’s sad and certainly no fairytale romance. Ominous leaps forward in time and strange digressions keep the narrative interesting. As always with Gibbons’ novels, they illustrate the social issues of the day. She pokes gentle fun at the modern arts scene (kitchen sink realism and abstract expressionism being recent inventions when she was writing the book) and scoffs at people being divided into ‘modern’ kinds / ‘beatniks’ (‘hippies’ not being a commonly used term yet) and ‘squares’. There’s an unpleasant scene with a shark that I’d rather not have read, but the majority of the book was delightful in an existentialist sort of way. It’s odd to consider that it was published 30 years after Cold Comfort Farm – there are indeed some parallels but the style of her later books is more natural and contemplative. I hope that Stella Gibbons would be pleased to know that many of her titles are being rediscovered by readers today.
First published in 1962. This edition by Dean Street Press, 2021.