Australia is not all surf, sand and sea, as much as the tourist industry likes to have it so. We actually do have “weather”, as many quaintly call anything that is not fine, sunny and calm. It is, in fact, autumn here now … after a rather unusual summer (in most parts of the country). It wasn’t as hot, and we had a lot more rain than the average. There have been, in different parts of the country, fires, floods and cyclones, all wreaking their own special form of damage, so I thought it was time for a description that wasn’t sun. What about storms?
Storms in literature, of course, usually have a symbolic as well as literal function, and this is the case in Nam Le‘s story “Halfhead Bay”. Storms can reflect strong emotions or conflict, herald a disturbance, suggest chaos or violence, and/or imply divine intervention. In King Lear, for example, the storm reflects his growing madness and, as is generally regarded, signposts divine intervention. But, symbols like that are most effective when they work well on the literal level first. King Lear feels the power of the actual storm as we readers see its import. Nam Le’s storm, too, is visceral:
And she was right, the storm was coming in – it was streaking like a grey mouth snarled with wind, like a shredded howl, rendering the land into a dark, unchartered coast. The bay turning black. For centuries, fleets had broken themselves against the teeth of that coast.
It’s not unusual to personify storms … but this one here is particularly powerful, not to mention rather malevolent sounding. Some storms can be powerful in a beautiful way. This, however, is not one of them.
Note: I read Nam Le’s award-winning short story collection, The boat, a couple of months before I started blogging, so you won’t have seen a review here. It’s an astonishingly versatile collection and well worth reading.