Reviews and a catch-up – Ng & Offill

Given that still I’m furloughed, and thus having the luxury of being able to read in bed for as long as I want in the mornings, I expected to get more than ten books read in May – and three of those were sub-200 page novellas – but somehow I didn’t, I can’t explain it. However, I’m still two ahead on my Goodreads tracker. While having set a nominal year-end target in my mind of over 125 books for years, this is the first year I’ve put it into Goodreads. What an insidious thing it is! I got behind once, and my reaction was to find a novella to get back on target again. I’ve started off June well though, finishing two books already – although I’m re-reading Dune in between for book group which is a bit of a chunkster. The Shiny rebuild has been going well – I’ve reinstated about 50% now, and am doing the rest in smaller batches to avoid overfilling subscribers’ inboxes! But enough of me nattering, here’s thoughts about two of my recent reads.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

This was our book group choice for this month, and it went down well with most of the group. Set in the suburban Ohio town of Shaker Heights, the novel compares and contrasts the lots of two families, the wealthy Richardsons and their new tenants, a single mother and her daughter, Mia and Pearl. The Richardsons have four children, two boys, two girls and all four will be attracted to Mia and Pearl in one way or another – all except the youngest Izzy are full of raging hormones, so you can guess some of what will happen without me saying more. The other main strand is concerned with class/race and motherhood; the Richardson’s friends try to adopt an abandoned Chinese-American baby, but when the baby’s mother steps forwards having improved her circumstances, a custody battle erupts. Mia knows the baby’s mother, and thus sides are taken.

This book generated a good discussion, ranging from the class / race issues to whether we believed in her portrayal of suburban life and High School in America. Interestingly, no mention is made of Mia and Pearl’s ethnicity in the book, but in the new Reese Witherspoon series now airing on Amazon Prime they have cast black actors, which makes everything more obvious. Some of our group felt that the baby business (there’s more to it than I mentioned above) was perhaps a little heavy handed, but then it gets the author’s points across. I mentioned to the group that I was surprised at the amount of sex the teens were having, but was told by our younger members that I obviously had a protected upbringing! This was a great book group read, which I really enjoyed. (8/10)

Weather by Jenny Offill

When I read Jenny Offill’s previous novel from 2014, Dept of Speculation (reviewed here) three years ago, I found myself wondering why I’d waited so long to read it. I adored it, especially loving its vignette style. Now, six years later, she’s finally written another book.

Weather employs the same short paragraph vignette style, but this time rather than chronicling the disintegration of a relationship, our narrator, Lizzie, worries about things. She is a librarian who is also employed to answer the emails sent to her friend’s environmental podcast Hell and High Water, acting as an environmental agony aunt. And so Lizzie worries about climate change and prepping for the end of the world alongside the emailers. Then there is everything in her own life to worry about when she has time, her son, her husband, taking in her ex-junkie brother Henry to keep him clean, her mother’s endless phone calls. She has a lot on her plate at home, and at work, where one colleague is always snarky to her:

She has never liked me because I don’t have a proper degree. Feral librarians, they call us, as in just wandered out of the woods.

The vignettes tumble from Lizzie – whatever is preoccupying her, interspersed by some of the emailed questions. She does her best to help everyone. Nothing else much happens, except she manages to cross a few things off her to-do list, and the world carries on…

I was so blown away by Dept of Speculation, that I must admit I felt slightly short-changed by Weather. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, because I really did. Maybe I expected something slightly different, but it was sort of the same, but less funny (bar the occasional quips like the quote above). Many other reviewers seem to have preferred Weather, but I think I identified with the unnamed narrator of Dept of Speculation and her fun occupation of science fact checking more. (8.5/10)

Source: Review copy – thank you. Jenny Offill, Weather (Granta, 2020) hardback, 208 pages.

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12 thoughts on “Reviews and a catch-up – Ng & Offill

  1. Café Society says:

    I felt the same way about weather, Annabel. I got to the end of it and thought I must’ve missed the point. But as you say, many other people have really enjoyed it.

  2. Laura says:

    I found Little Fires Everywhere incredibly heavy-handed, but got on better with Ng’s first novel, Everything I Never Told You. On the other hand, I loved Weather, but I haven’t read Dept of Speculation, so maybe I’d like that even more!

  3. JacquiWine says:

    While I admired the writing in Dept., I didn’t love it. Another blogger (Max, I think) described it as being like a sequence snowflakes, with each perfectly-formed vignette rapidly melting away. All of which leaves me feeling uncertain as to how I would find Weather, especially given your review!

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I’m generally a fan of vignettes, and I like being able to read in between the lines as the picture builds up, but for me Weather wasn’t as finely wrought as Dept.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      All the early reviews of Weather were so glowing! Little Fires Everywhere was a good read (the TV series on Prime is excellent).

  4. DoingDewey says:

    I’m still working, but I’ve found that sometimes being stuck at home helps me read more and sometimes my reaction to current events is to just want to do activities that require less thinking than reading, so it can definitely go either way! I’m very impressed by the speed with which you’re restoring The Shiny.

    I really enjoyed Little Fires Everywhere and I’m not surprised to hear it led to some good discussion. I’ll have to suggest it to my book club once we’re meeting again. For me, it was a bit like Weather was for you though – although I liked it, I didn’t find it quite as moving as the author’s debut.

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