I’m not certain what to make of Weather. I bought it on a whim in the LRB Bookshop, enamoured by the cover, synopsis and refreshing slimness. (that way one can read more books!) Jenny Offill’s tale centres on a librarian without a degree, Lizzie, who bags a job working for her old mentor’s, Sylvia, podcast, answering the slew of insurmountable emails. But it’s so much more than that, really.
I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I can’t seem to stop making bad decisions.
The primary sensation of Weather, all-encompassing and pervasive, is dislocation. In that sense, it is a resolutely contemporary novel, categorically bound up in the dislocating discombobulation of everyday modern life through the eyes of the people on the ground who didn’t ask for any of this. Great upheavals in human history produce dislocation as everybody simultaneously grapples with how to ground themselves in this new, uncertain world, that could be entirely new or perhaps just old with a new lick of paint, or exactly the same, only now visible to the eyes of all. Confusion abounds.
Though centralising narrative activity within Lizzie, Offill deliberately obscures the social and political revolutions going on within the periphery, boiling them down to emailed-in questions for the podcast interspersed across the chapters and a smattering of simple words, immediately conjuring exact recall; the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States is referred to only as “the election.” You don’t need any more than that; Offill’s great skill is in provoking such a range of memories and emotions with the utmost simplicity.
People Also Ask
What will disappear from stores first?
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What is the cultural trance?
Is it wrong to eat meat?
What is surveillance capitalism?
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What is the internet of things?
When will humans go extinct?
It’s a difficult novel to summarise; the less you know going in, the better. It’s also difficult because I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. I finished it a couple of days ago, and it made me feel cold. It seemed melancholic but not in any nostalgic, cloying sense – rather, the kind of melancholia of the unknown, of a pit hollowing within one’s stomach, raw, gaping and gnawing until the final destination arrives. But when? I felt unfulfilled with the lack of narrative completion, and frustrated. The final destination is certainty rather than death (even if the two will always come conjoined); perhaps the novel cannot resolve itself while the world hasn’t.
Sometimes I bring her books to read. She likes mysteries, she told me. Regular-type mysteries. But this last one I gave her was no good, she says. It was all jumbled up. In it, the detective investigated the crime, tracked down every clue, interviewed every possible subject, only to discover that he himself was the murderer.
You don’t say.
Yet, Offill’s penetrative prose has stayed underneath my skin in those days hence and prompted me to think about all those questions unanswered. “After the election,” as the third chapter begins, Offill writes of a fancy grocery store bearing the sign, “NO POLITICS, PLEASE.” But Weather is a reminder that politics will infect and infiltrate your life whether you ask for it or not. It’s a discomforting process when one realises that one’s livelihood and, indeed, one’s entire grasp on solid reality, is dictated not by the internal conviction of the self but external bodies and behaviours entirely beyond one’s control. We’re left to navigate the littered remnants, our minds and lives eroding to nubs.
It’s a book of dislocation and uncertainty, of not just the world but the self. Reams of thought and emotion are packed into the thin, 200-page novel, told in a relatively unconventional verse-esque style. I don’t think Lizzie, or any of the characters within, really know what’s going on with the world or within them. Brave faces can be donned, but they’re just that – faces. The front cover is bright blue, those striking and swirling arrows indicating something topsy-turvy about the words within, yet on the back cover the colour scheme strikes off into startling grey, almost as if the book itself is hiding the inner darkness from reader’s first glance. One hopes that, like the weather, the world will return to a state of sun as it endures the storm. Or, perhaps it is not oppositional duality, but something unified: co-existence of all at once. Whichever way the wind blows, I didn’t find much hope in Weather – but I think it’s a book that will be with me for some time to come.