The thermometer in the shade on the balcony is displaying just under 40 degrees – yes, we are in the midst of a heatwave in Crete!
In all the time I have spent on this magical island over the course of many years and seasons, I have never known such consistent high temperatures.
It is promising to ease. By next week we will be down to the more normal low 30s by day and mid 20s by night. At the moment, night time temperatures are only a few snippets down from the day. So it’s got me thinking of heatwaves in novels.
And immediately, The Go-Between springs to mind when Leo Colston goes to stay in the country with his friend, Marcus, and experiences very hot days and, as he tells his mother in a letter the Heat is Grate and growing Grater – his spelling, not mine. That summer leads to an explosive event and the use of pathetic fallacy is marked as the heat eventually gives way to heavy rain as the plot comes to a climax.
Extreme weather conditions seem closely connected with either violence or conflict in literature. Think of the Box Hill Strawberry picking in Emma. Jane Austen stresses the warmth of the day, the consequent ill humour and temper our eponymous heroine experiences with Miss Bates her victim.
In Romeo and Juliet, Act 3, the turning point of the play that propells it to its tragic conclusion, Benvolio opens the scene talking to Mercutio:
I pray thee, good Mercutio, let’s retire: the day is hot, the Capulets abroad ….For now these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.
In other words, watch out, it’s hot, things will turn nasty.
Coming far more up to date, Penelope Lively, one of my favourite writers, wrote a novel simply called Heatwave, and I highly recommend it if you have not already read it. Again, it is implied that events are brought to a very dramatic head by intense heat.
Yet, in truth, a heatwave seems to lead to apathy rather than violent action and reaction! The effort of moving from one room to the other, from outside to inside, to the fridge for a cool drink, is sufficient to require a siesta or at least a quiet sit down for an hour or so.
And this comes from someone who adores heat and is actually loving every moment of watching the thermometer climb each morning and failing to remember to fall at night.
It’s true that the early mornings, just before the heat rises, between 8 and 9 am, the air is at its best. It is as if everything is holding its breath, still and calm, before the onslaught of the day in all its heated intensity.
Then again in the evening – around 8.30 when the sun is setting – there is a return to that calm mood when your skin is cool again for the first time in 12 hours or so.
So Iiterature might be falling short of accuracy in portraying heatwaves as times of extreme action.
But who cares? It’s fiction, after all, and novelists spend their lives giving free rein to events that never happened, creating entire towns and populations that never existed. Who needs accuracy?
It’s time for a break – in a heatwave even bashing away at the keys of a laptop saps energy and there is cooling seawater awaiting – a sunshade needing to fulfil its function.
Happy August wherever you are – come thunderstorms or heatwaves or something in between!