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Fiction Siblings

A Student of Weather

by (author) Elizabeth Hay

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Feb 2001
Siblings, Historical, Literary
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2001
    List Price

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From some accidents of love and weather we never quite recover. At the worst of the Prairie dust bowl of the 1930s, a young man appears out of a blizzard and forever alters the lives of two sisters. There is the beautiful, fastidious Lucinda, and the tricky and tenacious Norma Joyce, at first a strange, self-possessed child, later a woman who learns something of self-forgiveness and of the redemptive nature of art. Their rivalry sets the stage for all that follows in a narrative spanning over thirty years, beginning in Saskatchewan and moving, in the decades following the war, to Ottawa and New York City. Disarming, vividly told, unforgettable, this is a story about the mistakes we make that never go away, about how the things we want to keep vanish and the things we want to lose return to haunt us.

About the author

A former CBC Radio host, interviewer and documentary maker in Winnipeg, Yellowknife and Toronto, Elizabeth Hay spent eight years in New York where a profound longing for home propelled her to write Captivity Tales. In a poetic blend of personal narrative, biography, history and literary fiction, she tells the stories of other Canadians who came to New York and their experiences away from home. She is the author of three other books: The Only Snow in Havana, Crossing the Snow Lines, and Small Change. She lives in Ottawa.

Elizabeth Hay's profile page


  • Winner, Marian Engel Award
  • Nominated, Giller Prize

Editorial Reviews

“There has never been a sister, lover, or daughter like Elizabeth Hay’s haunted Norma Joyce. A Student of Weather is as evocative as Jane Campion’s The Piano in its erotic obsessions and relentless quest for love and art. A sensual treasure.” —Linda Svendsen

“Hay exposes the beauty simmering in the heart of harsh settings with an evocative grace that brings to mind Annie Proulx. . . . I was so moved by Norma Joyce’s painful, haunting journey to wisdom—and Elizabeth Hay’s telling of it—that I wanted to go back to the beginning and start again.” —The Washington Post

“This is a book to break (and warm) your heart over and over. . . . Hay’s language is precise, economical and evocative. In A Student of Weather, every word counts.” —Ottawa Citizen

“In stunningly precise and suggestive prose, Hay tells a story of obsession and rivalry. . . . Hay’s yearning, suffering women have the lit-from-within emotional intensity of D.H. Lawrence’s. . . . Brilliant.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“A brilliant exploration of the universal themes of pain and betrayal and survival, rendered with such a sure, deft touch that Hay seems to be discovering new literary territory . . . ” —Quill & Quire (starred review)

“Be warned! You won’t be able to set this seductive book down until you’ve finished—sadder, wiser, and gladder to be alive.” —Isabel Huggan

“In elegant and exacting prose, Elizabeth Hay lays bare the perilous power of love and all that we prefer to keep hidden about ourselves. Unsparing and unsettling, this exceptional first novel shines.” —Diane Schoemperlen

A Student of Weather is complicated, compelling, and beautifully told.” —Maclean’s

“Hay’s contemplative yet dramatic ballad to beauty, autonomy, and creativity is akin to the work of Alice Hoffman and Isabel Allende . . . enthralling. . . .” —Booklist (starred review)

“More than any other forecast, A Student of Weather reads the signs that mark the blessings and curses of persistence. . . .” —Ottawa Citizen

“Hay’s book both captivates and astonishes. Read A Student of Weather and rejoice.” —London Free Press

“Compelling and highly original. . . .” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Bad weather erupts and the result is the creation of an unforgettable fictional world. . . . This is a book to savour, to ponder and to read a second and third time. . . . A Student of Weather is first-class: heartfelt, with a sureness of touch and beauty of expression rare in fiction today.” —Montreal Gazette
“This is a wise book, artful and impressively intelligent. . . .” —Globe and Mail

“Hay has created a character who burrows into your mind and stays there. Norma Joyce is not larger than life, she is life, and she comes to us fully formed in this rich, compelling, satisfying novel.” —National Post

“A work of rare beauty and integrity. Hay has created a heroine, Norma Joyce Hardy, who will linger in the mind long after the last chapter ends.” —Ottawa XPress

“Elizabeth Hay has intelligence coming out of her fingertips— integrity, insight, and wonder in every paragraph of her writing. . . . She connects. She stirs and provokes.” —Timothy Findley

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