Book of the Month : September 2020 : Weather, Jenny Offill

This month, I’m glad to say that I discovered the writing of Jenny Offill – due to the televised presentation of the short list for The Women’s Prize for Fiction, 2020, which took place over four virtual, absorbing and creative literary evenings. 

Our Wordfest Book of the Month in August was Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet.  This proved to be the overall winner of The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020; it is a beautiful ode to love and loss.

How you choose a winner from an exceptional short-list which included:

  • The Mirror and the Light, Hilary Mantel 
  • Girl, Woman, Other, Bernardine Evaristo
  • Weather, Jenny Offill
  • Dominicana, Angie Cruz
  • A Thousand Ships, Natalie Haynes

Judging from a short list like this takes some difficult choices, challenges and courage.

However, we readers now have an autumn reading list of sensitivity, experimentation, and reclaimed or re-imagined women’s voices covering the Then and the Now.

For Wordfest’s Book of the Month I have decided to focus on Weather by Jenny Offill.

We first meet Lizzie in the library where she works. Her voice and thoughts carry us through a novella-length interrogation on our times and tribulations, shot through with wit, mirth, self-deprecation and uncertainty.

Written entirely in short paragraphs, with print space between them so that the printed page has a spaced appearance, Lizzie speculates upon life, the universe and everything. It is a novel novel, in both meanings of the phrase. I have never read one quite like it before and I greatly admired Offill’s approach through a fragmented prose that scoped investigations into the environmental, the political, the domestic and The End of Days.

On my second read, I realised that the fascinating cast of characters filtered through Lizzie’s voice and who travel with the reader throughout  their journey, as well as the philosophical structure of the story are, in fact, the spine of the narrative. Lizzie’s editing  as she retells and rethinks events and fears, big and small, can be funny, cryptic, scared, loving, witty, and more. We are listening in to a psyche at work. She frequently claims that people are not to treat her as a shrink, but she doesn’t always win that battle. 

I’ll finish with an epigram from Epictetus quoted towards the end of the book:

You are not some disinterested bystander/Exert yourself.

Morag Charlwood

Book Review Editor: Shoreham Wordfest

September 2020

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