When Hot Is Part of the Plot

Last week, “inspired” by the frigid weather in much of the U.S., I wrote about literature that’s filled with cold and snow. Well, it’s summer in Australia and various other parts of the world, and some locales rarely get chilly, so I’ll follow up with a post about fiction featuring the hot and humid.

Heat can be a key factor in literature, whether the works are set before or after our planet’s scary scourge of climate change. High temperatures invigorate some characters and sap the energy of others, make for lush landscapes or a barren desert, and so on.

Speaking of desert, the first novel I’ll mention has to be…Desert. That J.M.G. Le Clezio book takes place mostly in Morocco, and the temperature is important and palpable — especially in comparison with the France-set scenes in later chapters.

Among many other excellent novels with milieus in the warmer countries of Africa are Wole Soyinka’s The Interpreters, Buchi Emecheta’s Second-Class Citizen, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, and Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky.

Novels that unfold in Southern Europe? They include Miguel de Cervantes’ Spain-set Don Quixote, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s Sicily-set The Leopard, Elsa Morante’s Rome-set History, and Jeffrey Eugenides’ partly Greece-set Middlesex. And it’s rather scorching when a certain volcanic eruption buries Pompeii in Anthony Burgess’ The Kingdom of the Wicked.

The Caribbean or other warm islands? Jean Rhys’ Jane Eyre prequel Wide Sargasso Sea and Alexandre Dumas’ Georges, to name two.

It’s interesting when a novel takes characters (and readers) from colder to warmer climes — as in (Ms.) Lionel Shriver’s So Much for That (U.S. to a tropical island), David Lodge’s Paradise News (England to Hawaii), and Paul Theroux’s The Mosquito Coast (U.S. to Central America). In the first two books, those toastier places are a big relief — even life-changing — for the characters. In the third book, disaster results.

Things are more mixed when the Price family move from the U.S. to Africa in Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. (The Prices were not exactly cold in their home state of Georgia.) The obnoxious missionary dad makes things miserable in Africa, but the wife and four daughters he drags along eventually find some positives in their lives.

Speaking of the U.S., there are plenty of novels set in the Southeast, New Orleans, the Southwest, Southern California, etc. They include Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ The Yearling, Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road, William Faulkner’s Light in August, Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour, John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, Amanda Moores’ Grail Nights (whose author is the wife of frequent commenter here jhNY), Cormac McCarthy’s The Border Trilogy (in which there’s also much of Mexico), James Michener’s Texas, Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop, Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale, Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress, and Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, among many others.

And there’s of course the warm climes in lots of Latin America literature — the subject of its own blog postย this past September.

My 2017 literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — which includes a Russian literature sub-theme! — is here.

44 thoughts on “When Hot Is Part of the Plot

  1. One of our current guilty pleasures here in the Mystery Cave is MC Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth mystery series (around 3 dozen well-wrought little novels!).

    From “Death of a Macho Man”:

    “Of course, the weather contributed to the edginess that was created in the Lochdubh bar one day…Midges, those maddening Highland mosquitoes, were out in black clouds, no rain seeming to deter them. The atmosphere was muggy and close. It was the tenth day of rain and the damp permeated everything and clothes stuck to the body, and where the clothes did not stick, the midges stung with savage fury.”

    I don’t know about you, but those midges and all that damp would put me in a most murderous frame of mind, though hopefully my will to kill would be confined to midges…

    Liked by 1 person

    • “The Mystery Cave” — I like that. ๐Ÿ™‚

      From the excerpt you posted, I can see there’s great writing in “Death of a Macho Man.” A very intense description of weather that indeed evokes questions of “how would I feel and what bad thing would I do in those conditions?”

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      • We have produced a novel and an album of songs under that Mystery Cave moniker– I think Mandy was the one who dreamed it up as an appropriate phrase to apply to our apartment, filled as it is with impromptu shrines and curios, wherever there are no books , lp’s or furniture.

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        • jhNY, I love that name, the Mystery Cave — it’s so appropriate to my own home. Bill and I were out today at IKEA to buy a few more bookcases for my den, which I’m sure will be full of something once put together, whether books, CDs, object-d’artes and/or knick-knacks that I love and can’t part with. I did read M.C. Beaton, but for some reason didn’t care much for the one Hamish Macbeth novel I read, but I did really like her Agatha Raisin series. It’s been a while, so who knows, tomorrow I might rate them differently.

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  2. “Santal”, a novella by Ronald Firbank, takes place in North Africa. Its protagonist, Cherif, an adolescent boy who spurns the workaday world of his family, sets alone out to find the Prophet, the All-Knowing One, who is rumored to live in the mountains beyond the deserts. His journey is a travail, arduous, and in the end, which is also his end, unfruitful, yet… Below, the closing paragraphs of “Santal”:

    “The day had been hotter than any yet he could remember, an for many hours now, he was without water at all. He had come, as evening drew in, to a valley that seemed less hostile,, maybe, among the rocks. But search as he would there was no water, or any trace anywhere, of the one he sought. White beneath the glory of the moon the hills rolled away as though eternally; elusive hills, recalling to mind his dream. Alas, was the world all illusion then?

    In the early light he re-opened, once again, the Koran. He read:
    ‘In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful,
    By the noon-day BRIGHTNESS,
    And by the night when it darkeneth!
    Thy Lord hath not forsaken thee, either hath he been displeased.
    And surely the Future shall be better for thee than the Past,
    And in the end shall thy Lord be bounteous to thee and be satisfied.’

    A great resignation filled his heart. And standing, his face turned towards the kindling East, he prayed: “Lord Allah! Show compassion to thy child, Cherif.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh boy… I don’t know if movies count here. But I HAVE to mention Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.” The intense summer heat is a huge underlying current in that story, and an illustration of the “boiling” racial tension in the town. Like the heat, everything eventually explodes out of control, and it is hard to watch at times. Sorry if I’m out of line bringing up a movie in a literature blog ๐Ÿ˜ฆ but I instantly thought of it when I started reading this article! To me, it’s one of the best uses of summer heat to illustrate a story point.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, M.B.! You’re totally welcome to bring up a movie. ๐Ÿ™‚ And “Do the Right Thing” is an excellent film, with a screenplay as good and intense as many a novel. You’re absolutely right that the heat in that film is a major contributor to the plot of the movie and the feel of the movie. “Boiling” racial tension indeed. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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      • Speaking of ‘hot’ movies, here’s a quote from another film, ‘Body Heat’, in which that heat plays an integral role in more ways than one:

        “We’ve got more of everything bad
        since the wave started. It’s the
        crisis atmosphere. People dress
        different, feel different, sweat
        more. They wake up cranky and they
        never recover….
        Things are just a little askew. Pretty
        soon people think the old rules aren’t
        in effect. They start breaking them.
        Figure no one’ll care, cause it’s
        emergency time… time out.”

        The speaker is a detective talking to the dumb lawyer, Ned Racine, played by William Hurt, who goes on to do even dumber things because he’s in ‘lust’ with the temptress Kathleen Turner. Think ‘Double Indemnity’ with Hurt in the Fred MacMurray role and Turner as the Barbara Stanwyck character.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Very nice example of heat in movies, bobess48! Thank you! Somehow I’ve never seen “Body Heat,” though I’ve heard plenty about it for many years. Did see the great “Double Indemnity” — not exactly Fred MacMurray in “My Three Sons.” ๐Ÿ™‚

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  4. Hi Dave,

    It has been SO hot here in Australia. Though it was much nicer to wake up to 70 degrees this morning, rather than the 90 something that we have been getting.

    Iโ€™m not sure if itโ€™s just me, but there seems to be much more literature involving cold weather, rather than hot. About the only book that I could think of that hasnโ€™t already been mentioned is Frank Herbertโ€™s โ€œDuneโ€. And Iโ€™m not sure if that was actually hot, but it was certainly dry and deserty.

    There are parts of Westeros (Martinโ€™s โ€œSong of Ice and Fireโ€) that are quite Summery, but they have no extreme weather, and if anything, it emphasises just how cold it is in the North.

    Hope you are all managing to keep warm north of the equator ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Sue! Your mention last week of the heat in Australia was one of the things that made me think of writing this week’s post. ๐Ÿ™‚ Glad it finally cooled down a bit this morning where you live.

      Interesting that there are probably more novels with extreme cold than extreme heat. Maybe because extreme cold might be somewhat more dangerous and thus more dramatic? And/or maybe more novels are written in colder countries? Heck, those residents are inside more. ๐Ÿ™‚

      It turned bitterly cold again in the northeastern U.S. the past few days after one semi-warm day last week. But the temperature will rise a bit this week. Yay!

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  5. I got into a detective series set in Louisiana written by James Lee Burke a few years ago. Iโ€™m sure I must have started reading his books in the midst of a Maine winter. They were so good describing New Orleans, that when I went there in real life, I felt like Iโ€™d already been there. Another fun warm weather writer is Carl Hiaasen. His whacky tales set in Florida are fun and hot!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Shallow Reflections, for mentioning those two authors and for the concisely excellent descriptions!

      I haven’t read either of them, though I did enjoy Carl Hiaasen’s talk when he received the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010. He seems to evenly split his time between being a novelist and a Miami Herald columnist.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I highly recommend James Lee Burke. He writes noir-ish, dark mystery with the best of them, plus he throws in plenty of steamy atmosphere. You can feel sweaty just reading about those humid bayous as well as a few mosquito bites. I also like Carl Hiassen based on the two that I’ve read. I saw him at our annual fund-raising event for the library and got him to autograph a copy of ‘Sick Puppy’ for my ex-wife. She had read a few of his and asked me to get him to sign them for her. Hiassen has the advantage of often just changing the names of corrupt government officials in Florida and throwing in a few other too-silly-to-be-made up characters into his stories. In fact, when I saw him he didn’t read from one of his novels. He just brought a copy of a Florida newspaper with him and summarized the absurdities of the latest scandalous stories.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I definitely need to try James Lee Burke one of these days!

          As for Carl H., thanks for the great I-was-there memory, bobess48. Sounds like that Florida writer draws from the “truth is stranger than fiction” files… ๐Ÿ™‚

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          • I read the first two books of the Dave Robichaux series this past year: ‘The Neon Rain’ and ‘Heaven’s Prisoner’. With the Robichaux series, it really is best to read them in order, at least based on the few that I’ve read. Of course, the fictional vs. real timeline probably causes a few problems because if the series continues into the present day, then Dave Robichaux is almost as old as his creator. In any case, anyone in 2018 who was a Vietnam vet is at this point probably in their late 60’s or older, not a prime age for rigorous crime-fighting. Those are usually the guys that get promoted up to administrative desk jobs.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Thanks, bobess48! If I read Dave Robichaux, I’ll look for “The Neon Rain” first. ๐Ÿ™‚

              And, yes, it can get “interesting” when it comes to whether a rigorous character gets too old to do rigorous things, or whether a character should age in real time. In the “Gasoline Alley” comic strip, Walt must have been around 110 or something at one point!

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  6. Dave, several of the books you mentioned are favorites of mine, specifically, “So Much for That” and “The Poisonwood Bible.” Another novel set in Africa is “The Grass is Singing,” by Doris Lessing. There are a few Agatha Christie novels that also came to mind, e.g., “Then There Were None” set on an island off Devon on a hot summer weekend; “A Caribbean Mystery” featuring Miss Marple; and “Death on the Nile,” featuring Hercule Poirot.

    I also wanted to mention that I’ve added another member to my family, a large part Great Pyrenees, part yellow lab that I adopted from the rescue where I’m doing a little pet therapy work. I was concerned last night that she was really really sick, and I need to get her to the vet today or tomorrow, but I feel somewhat better this morning as “Vet Kat Lib” has diagnosed her with kennel cough. I’ll call my vet this morning to see what he wants me to do, and I know one thing will be to keep her and Willow separate, which is already too late for. I do know that for being so large (80 lbs.), she is so sweet and gentle. I must say that I renamed her from “Snowflake” (she’s all white with two brown ears and a few black polka dots on her nose) because I hate the snow to “Lilyan” (pronounced “Lil-yun” in honor of my best buddy from college who was Chinese-American.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Kat Lib!

      I don’t usually associate Agatha Christie with warm weather, but of course some of her mysteries have that setting. If I’m remembering right, she used to go on some archaeological digs with her husband; undoubtedly some of those were in hot climes, which may have influenced some of her novels.

      Congratulations on the new four-legged member of your household! She sounds wonderful — and very nice of you to adopt her! It’s certainly not unusual for an animal recently in a kennel or shelter to pick up an illness. That was the case with a cat I adopted years ago, and the vet quickly cured her. Good luck with the vet visit!

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      • BTW, Kat Lib, a few days ago I finished another Lionel Shriver novel: “The Mandibles.” Her most recent, I think. Very interesting dystopian book set in the near future. I’m trying to think of a way to include it in a future post. Have you read it?

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        • No, and I didn’t even know or forgot that she had a new one out. My days of roaming around Barnes & Noble every week are pretty much over, and the library where I live has poor access and even worse parking, but my friend goes fairly regularly so I can tag along with him.

          I took Lilyan to the vet yesterday and I correctly diagnosed her with kennel cough, so she’s now on antibiotics and a pill to help her with the coughing. I hope Willow doesn’t get it, but she was already exposed so not much I can do, except if she does come down with it, the vet told me to call him for more antibiotics.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Thanks for the reply, Kat Lib! I wish your library had better access and better parking. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

            “The Mandibles” is from 2016. I keep looking for Shriver’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin” at the library, but it’s never there, so I decided to try a different novel of hers. “The Mandibles” is a bit slow at times, but fascinating and very original. Shriver seems to have really researched economics for the book.

            I hope Lilyan feels better soon and that Willow doesn’t get sick, too. Your diagnosis was correct!

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            • Dave, I meant to ask you your thoughts on the Michener book “Texas.” It is after all the state I was born in (Dallas), as well as where I spent my last two years in college at UT-Austin, where I met my good friend Lilyan. I hated the first semester I was there and felt like I didn’t really belong, but I grew to love it. It was so different from any other place I’d lived, as well as many of the people I met there. There was definitely the feeling that they mostly considered themselves in a separate country from the US. One of my Minneapolis friends warned me that she had to take a school trip there and was asked by someone in Texas if she needed to have a passport to get in! There were some great women who were from there, most notably Molly Ivins (who actually worked on a Minneapolis paper at the beginning of her career) and Gov. Ann Richards. Then of course there was Janis Joplin, who performed a concert at the University, and my friend Lilyan and I actually sneaked in during the intermission for the rest of the great show. She very entertaining, to say the least.

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              • Kat Lib, my mention of James Michener’s “Texas” was a VERY RARE case of me including a novel I haven’t read in one of my blog posts. ๐Ÿ™‚

                You certainly have plenty of Texas in your life history!

                Texas IS sort of a different state of mind along with being a state. I’ve visited a half dozen times or so, and the swagger and conservatism gets a bit on one’s nerves, though of course that’s only part of the state’s “vibe.” And there are certainly more liberal “enclaves” — such as Austin and, to an extent, San Antonio. Plus some liberal icons such as Molly Ivins, as you mentioned. I think the lead singer of the progressive band The Dixie Chicks is from Texas, too.

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                • Texas is great state to be from, like my own state of Tennessee. Living therein? Another matter entirely.

                  First time I visited, about 40 years ago, I noticed, upon entering a fast-food restaurant, a sign by the menu board stating that state law forbade the carrying of firearms into business establishments. Quaint to remember now, but that made me nervous about being among a populace that needed such reminders. Now of course, all such carryings-in are legal in Texas.

                  In 2013, Gun Barrel City TX passed a resolution to encourage all of its citizens to own a firearm….

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                  • Yes, when thinking of Texas one thinks of guns, and I don’t like that, either. One also thinks of “macho” — a word that’s part of the title of a book you just mentioned in another comment. On a scale of five stars, Texas gets only a “Lone Star” from me. ๐Ÿ™‚

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              • Dave and jhNY, one of the first things I did when arriving at UT-Austin was go up the Tower to see where that awful mass shooting happened years ago — but at that point they hadn’t covered up the bullet-holes completely. However, if I had wanted to go to UT now, I don’t think my parents would have let me, knowing it’s pretty much a concealed-carry campus, although the laws are confusing to say the least..

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                • Kat Lib, the thought of a concealed-carry campus is just creepy. And Austin is one of the more liberal/tolerant places in Texas, but of course is at the mercy of reactionary state law. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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  7. “The Enchanted April” is a 1922 novel by British writer Elizabeth von Arnim. I admit that I haven’t read the book, but a movie was made of the novel a few years back, and the movie is TRULY ENCHANTING! I need to put the book on my list. It is about 4 English women who rent a castle on the Italian riviera for the month of April to get away from the gray, dismal climate in England.

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