It’s one of the unfortunate realities of being alive in the 21st century that we’re likely to see the most extreme weather events in recorded history. I don’t have time to “debate” the scientific reality of climate change, so instead I’ll simply suggest that you stick your head out your window or watch the morning weather report. So, it’s not really a surprise that this reality is reflected in our fiction. Even though traditional writing advice prohibits authors from describing the weather, in these books it becomes a character in and of itself, a driving force in the plot and a thematic backdrop to the action. Here are seven books about extreme weather that will have you putting your storm windows in.

7 Books About Extreme Weather - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Grapes Of Wrath - John Steinbeck - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Not all books about extreme weather are contemporary best-sellers. If you look back into the American literary canon, you’ll find The Grapes Of Wrath. The Joads are down on their luck, in large part because of a natural disaster: a drought and the Dust Bowl (a period of severe dust storms that greatly damaged the ecology and agriculture of the American and Canadian prairies during the 1930s). They lose their Oklahoma farm to these elements, and pick up sticks to migrate to California, drawn by the promise of employment in the still-fertile coastal regions. Of course, things go from bad to worse for them all – Steinbeck didn’t really believe in happily-ever-afters. Read my full review of The Grapes Of Wrath here.

The Dry by Jane Harper

The Dry - Jane Harper - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It took a while for The Dry to gather momentum worldwide, but it was a near-instant best-seller here in Australia. Australians understood instantly the conceit of Harper’s debut novel, a thriller set in a small regional town beset by drought. A family is dead, a desperate farmer apparently having shot his wife and child before turning the gun on himself. This is a situation that’s sadly close to the reality for many communities around this country, where droughts have worsened and conditions have become even more untenable for farming families, leading to an unprecedented mental health crisis. This is one of the books about extreme weather that’s all-too-relatable for many Australian readers. Read my full review of The Dry here.

The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse

The Sanatorium - Sarah Pearse - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Locked-room mysteries are a well-worn trope of the genre, but books about extreme weather that cause the isolation take them to a whole new level. One recent example is The Sanatorium, a crime thriller set at a former asylum renovated into a luxury hotel, cut off from the world by an intense snow storm. A police detective is staying at the hotel to celebrate the engagement of her until-recently estranged brother, but she’s suddenly back on duty when the bride-to-be disappears. With a dwindling number of suspects and a bad gut feeling, the detective has to figure out what happened to her brother’s fiancée before it’s too late. Read my full review of The Sanatorium here.

A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

A Tale For The Time Being - Ruth Ozeki - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Extreme weather events don’t always come from the sky; sometimes they happen deep below the ground on which we stand. The 2011 Tōhoku earthquake is one of the worst in living memory, a 9.1 undersea megathrust earthquake in the Pacific Ocean, causing a massive tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear disaster. It’s the anchoring event at the heart of Ruth Ozeki’s meta-fiction novel A Tale For The Time Being, with two narratives playing out on either side of it. Before the earthquake, teenage Nao keeps a diary about her life and plans for suicide in Tokyo. Years later, a middle-aged writer named Ruth finds it washed up on the shore in Canada. The mystery of what happened to Nao and how her story ends, or continues, is both compelling and devastating. Read my full review of A Tale For The Time Being here.

The Wall by John Lanchester

The Wall - John Lanchester - Keeping Up With The Penguins

You may have noticed that dystopian novels have increasingly used climate change as an inciting incident for their post-apocalyptic conceits. Take The Wall, for instance. In a disturbingly-near future United Kingdom, society is hanging by a thread after the “Change”, a climactic event that has led to total upheaval. In response to the Change, Britain has erected the “National Coastal Defense Structure” (i.e., The Wall), a 10,000km concrete border patrolled by young conscripts. They’re on guard against the Others, desperate souls who may survive the rising sea levels and try to penetrate the country’s defenses. It’s a book about extreme weather, scarcity, climate migration, conservatism, and yet it’s still a fun read.

Dyschronia by Jennifer Mills

Dyschronia - Jennifer Mills - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Dyschronia is unique among books about extreme weather, if for no other reason than it turns all expectations on their heads. We’re all familiar with the threat of rising sea levels, but in Jennifer Mills’ novel, the sea recedes. The residents of a coastal town awake to find acres of dead fish rotting on an expanse of sand where there was once water. That’s weird enough, but factor in a young girl with migraines who foresaw the disaster, a con man exploiting the closure of an asphalt plan, and a Greek chorus relating the whole saga, and it’s a real stand-out. Read my full review of Dyschronia here.

Instructions For A Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell

Instructions For A Heatwave - Maggie O'Farrell - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Instructions For A Heatwave begins on 15 July 1976, and takes place over the following four days. The Riordan family is living through an unprecedented heatwave, with the accompanying drought and water shortages. It’s the third month of incredible heat and no rain – routine in Australia, but a bit fucked for the characters in the United Kingdom. The heatwave, it turns out, is an obvious but well-written metaphor for the pressure cooker situation the Riordan family is about to find themselves in, when the patriarch disappears and they must come together to track him down. This is both one of the best books about extreme weather and well-written family dramas you’ll read – Maggie O’Farrell can really do it all. Read my full review of Instructions For A Heatwave here.