The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for too much rain


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Ailment: Rain, too much

Cure: Boating for Beginners by Jeanette Winterson

It was hard, this winter, not to feel like something biblical was happening. As well as the rain and floods, there were freak winds and even hailstorms. One didn't have to be religious to imagine an irate godhead, smiting the land. Now, as we emerge, soggy, sobered and surrounded by sandbags, it's time to reassess our environmentally-unfriendly ways.

While you ponder your priorities, read Jeanette Winterson's re-telling of Noah's story, Boating for Beginners. It's set in a land reminiscent of Eighties' Britain, and society is at a low ebb. Noah, the owner of a pleasure-boat company, spends his downtime dabbling in experiments. One day, he accidentally brings a slice of Black Forest gâteau to Frankensteinian life.

When this confection takes to creating pyrotechnic effects of its own, Noah realises he has inadvertently created an omnipotent being he cannot control. Chaos ensues and Noah makes a deal with his power-crazed progeny to wipe out most of humanity and start again. Cue the rains – and a handy fibreglass boat. But before Noah jumps on board, he makes sure that future generations will have a decent myth to hang their morals on, and takes a few sticks of gopher wood to bury at the top of Mount Ararat. Better that the next generation falls for the romantic idea of a pre-industrial ark, than discovers the truth about their forbears.

As the waters recede, ask yourself which aspects of your life you will salvage, and which you will leave in the mud. Boating for Beginners gives us a much-needed laugh – but also reminds us to see the rains as a warning. What sort of world – and climate – do we want to hand down to the next generation?

'The Novel Cure, An A-Z of Literary Remedies' (Canongate, £17.99);