Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 10, 2022

Stormy Weather, by Michael Meehan

Reviews From the Archive

An occasional series, retrieving unpublished reviews from my journals 1997-2007


The catalyst for retrieving this review of Stormy Weather (2000) at this time is that Michael Meehan has a new novel forthcoming with Transit Lounge.  Meehan is the author of four novels and other academic titles, but he has a low profile on social media and doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page.  For an author of this stature, reviews are sparse and uninformative.  I really liked the two novels I’ve read, so I’ve resurrected this review from Reading Journal #4, 2001-2003.

Meehan’s novels are:

  • The Salt of Broken Tears (1999) which won the Christina Stead in the 2000 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, see my review.
  • Stormy Weather (2000)
  • Deception (2008), see the review by Perry Middlemiss here.
  • Below the Styx (2010), currently reading.

This is the blurb for Stormy Weather:

In a tiny country town in northwest Victoria in 1955, the year before the introduction of television, a troupe of vaudeville artists arrive to give a concert. Their impact on each other — and the inhabitants of the town — over a single 24-hour period of almost continuous rain, reveals exhausted hopes, secret dreams, plots of betrayal and anarchic optimism.

These are the opening lines:

Mr and Mrs Barrington drove through the steady blur of rain towards where they knew the town must be, toiling along in the big black car which looped and slithered in alarming turns like some great drunken mastodon.  Barrington drove much faster than he ought, insisting on momentum to rolling through the slush, with Mrs Barrington only caring to know where their son Freddie was, the two of them with nothing now to say, other than to wonder aloud from time to time where Freddie might be, whether they might still get to Towaninnie before the train got in, whether they be there to greet Freddie as he stepped off the Korong Vale train.

Before her lay the rich chromium orbs and circles of the brand-new glinting dashboard, and further beyond, the silver head of Pontiac himself, straining out into the storm.  (p.1)

Like other reviews in this series, this review was never intended for publication, of course, and its limitations are what they are, but FWIW, here it is.


Stormy Weather, by Michael Meehan, first published 2000

From my reading journal, dated 27 December 2001

This novel is even better than The Salt of Broken Tears. Meehan is a master craftsman with words, memorable images like ‘bananas grown tigerish with age’; ‘long, slender legs like a water bird’; ‘sheep huddles by fences in hope that strands of wire might give some shelter.’ His deft pen perfectly creates the small town, isolated by distance and the storm, dusty roads turned to slush and the pub ‘a welcome relief to the travellers, despite its shortcomings.’

What a cast of characters!  packed with memorable people, the travelling troupe is created from Meehan’s imagination from days when the Blind Concert travelled across Victoria raising funds for the RVIB [Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind, now Vision Australia].

  • The old compere: nameless but gentle and kind and utterly dedicated to creating magic in these sad and lonely outback towns;
  • The Barringtons: she embittered by the loss of a brilliant career when she fell in love with Mr B, he of luscious good looks and a lock of hair over one eye, but very little talent;
  • The Dutch cowboy: who can’t yodel when he’s drunk;
  • The squabbling acrobats who cling together in loyalty when Lucille thinks she’s killed the rabbiter.
  • The water diviner: a last minute substitute for Freddie Barrington, who turns up after all;
  • The publican’s wife, soured by life and struggle; and
  • The old Irish priest: who hears Barrington confess his betrayal of the old compere.

The rabbiter is the best creation of them all.  Abandoned beside a swamp first by his father and then his mother, he grows up wild and mischievous, living on theft and lizards and rabbits, and avoided by the good folk of the town.  He performs outrageous stunts to scandalise the town, but he does not do so from malice but because it’s the gaps — the wrinkles — the problems to be overcome — that make the magic in his and others’ lives.

SPOILER ALERT

The concert is a real success, but it’s Mrs Barrington who steals the show.  The dead possum in the piano enables her to sing solo, without her husband’s accompaniment, and her wondrous voice is heard throughout the town and across the swamp and into the pub and vestry, where it brings hope, compassion and new beginnings.

A wondrous book.  It deserves to be widely read.

I journaled these thoughts about the book on the 27th of December, 2001


This is an excerpt from the last pages:

He peered out across the changing swamp, at the milling waterbirds playing in the rising waters, at the stately gums, the dark caverns where the tops of the trees intertwined against the light, the shifting banks of flotsam that crept towards the truck.  But his deeper thoughts were no longer of the swamp, of the birds and the frogs and the cicadas, but of all the new things he had seen, of the saxophonist wading bare-legged at the water’s edge, the breathless eagerness of Freddie Barrington, the compere lost worlds away in his books, the bright eyes of the floppy woman and the wonderful music to follow, the beautiful sounds which came upon him in the darkness, and flowed out across the swamp.  The rabbiter found himself adrift in new and deep unsettling dreams, of vast obscure and beautiful forms, taller than the Towaninnie wheat silo, wider than the remotest flooded reaches of the swamp, stranger far than buried cows or cars in trees or even giant laundry kites could ever hope to meet. (p.203)

There is a brief review at Publishers Weekly which recognises (as I did not) that the novel is an arch retelling of the Tempest and that the rabbiter is like Caliban.

About the Author, from Read How You Want, viewed 7/11/22:

Michael Meehan grew up in the Mallee region of north-west Victoria. He studied law at the University of Adelaide, and literature at Monash and Cambridge Universities. He has taught in universities in many countries in Europe and Asia, and is a professor and former Head of the School of Communication and Creative Arts at Deakin University. His novels have been published in Australia, the UK and the US, and he won the NSW Premier’s Award for Fiction in 2000 with his first novel, The Salt of Broken Tears. He lives in Melbourne.

The book appears to be out of print, but there seem to be plenty of second-hand copies available at the usual places. (Brotherhood Books, however, is temporarily closed after the recent floods impacted on the Melbourne warehouse.)

Author: Michael Meehan
Title: Stormy Weather
Design: Yolande Gray
Publisher: Vintage (Random House), 2000
ISBN: 9780091841836 pbk, 204 pages
Source: personal library, purchased from Top Titles


Responses

  1. I am so pleased you wrote this review and have now shared it. Thank you. You are such a careful reader and diligent recorder. I am sorry if that sounds like a school report. I mean to say that your journaling and recording are amazing and refreshing and welcome.

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    • *Chuckle*
      Gosh, Carmel, I wish I’d had school reports that said that!
      I always feel ambivalent about resurrecting these old, private and often naive reviews. (You can see that really clearly if you compare the one from yesterday and the one today.) My reading has matured, and I feel cross with myself that I didn’t attend to more complex issues in the book.
      And yet the responses, thank you, often surprise me. Perhaps I should be kinder to my younger self!

      Like

  2. Thanks very much for introducing me to this writer, Lisa. I must confess I had never heard of him and you make me want to scour secondhand bookshops immediately! Yes, be kinder to your younger self – she is doing a great job!

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    • Thanks, Eleanor.
      I have to admit that I’m a bit baffled that I lost track of this author. I don’t know how I first came across him but I like him so well that I bought the second one, but missed the third one. Now that I’ve read Below the Styx I’m completely enamoured. I’m still mulling over my review which will be up soon, I hope.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. […] Stormy Weather | Michael Meehan (reviewed by Lisa @ANZLitLovers) […]

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  4. […] Stormy Weather | Michael Meehan (reviewed by Lisa @ANZLitLovers) […]

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