Forget dystopian thrillers, Weather is better

On finding the answers to Life, the Universe and Everything in Jenny Offill’s newest book

Credit to Granta

It is rare that a story on fears, ranging from the climate crisis to the rise of right-wing nationalism, ends up being a harbinger for hope.

But that is exactly what Jenny Offill’s Weather is.

Formally a story about the everyday worries and concerns of a mother, daughter, wife and sister, Weather primarily deals with the uncertainty of the times we live in.

Lizzie, the previously mentioned protagonist, is a librarian who takes on a second job answering the queries of people tuning in to her mentor’s climate podcast. The questions are both absurd (‘Do angels sleep?’) as well as poignant (‘What would be the safest place’?). It’s the mix of dark, sardonic humour as well as the narrative style consisting of short, fragmented paragraphs that manages to evoke such a visceral response from the reader-similar to George Saunder’s Lincoln in the Bardo, the sparse style packs a punch.

Weather holds up a mirror to the human condition without having to resort to preaching its message.

The absurdity of everyday life, characterized by the quirks and fears of regular people as well as the far-reaching consequences of emotional wounds in life is narrated exceptionally well in the story, ranging from the depiction of the struggle of dealing with substance addiction in a family to the pain occasioned by an offhand remark uttered by one’s own child. The prose in its emotional crispness is reminiscent of Virginia Woolf at her best.

At a time when unease and the ‘idea of an electric tension’ seems rife among us, Lizzie’s unflinching readiness to engage with her own reality appears laudable. Her attempts ‘to calm a fearful mind’ in order to manage the inevitable storms of life have the potential to resonate deeply, even beyond the current crisis.

Photojournalist and narrative non-fiction writer

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