‘Weather’ by Jenny Offill – Musings on the Impending Climate Disaster


‘Weather’ by Jenny Offill  (2020)  –  201 pages

As was Jenny Offill’s previous novel ‘Dept. of Speculation’, ‘Weather’ is made up entirely of short frequently related vignettes or sketches to give us a word picture of what is going on in the minds of the various characters at the time. Instead of telling a straight story, ‘Weather’ approaches its subject sideways via short, mostly one paragraph, seemingly unrelated sketches. The idea is to resemble the way wayward thoughts enter and leave the mind, disjointed and clever.

In “Weather’, our narrator Lizzie is answering letters that come in for a climate change warning podcast called “Come Hell or High Water” hosted by her former mentor Sylvia.

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

I feel slightly less dread,

When I am with you.”

Jenny Offill requires an overwhelming backdrop to give her short vignettes a genuine poignancy. In ‘Dept of Speculation’ it was the breakup and dissolution of the narrator’s marriage that provided this effective backdrop. In ‘Weather’ the backdrop is the predicted hardship coming due to climate change which is supposed to provide this poignancy. The election of Trump makes the sense of impending disaster more immediate and urgent in nearly every way. Then Lizzie’s drug addict brother Henry stays at Lizzie’s house and disrupts her family and everything else. We are “tilting into the abyss”.

It is dusk when Henry and I leave the park. A car nearly runs us over. Now we’re right next to her at the light. My brother goes up to the window. ‘Lady you almost killed us,’ he tells her. But she won’t look at him. ‘You and your precious lives,’ she says.”

Although I was quite taken by her earlier novel ‘Dept of Speculation’, the short one-paragraph sketches in ‘Weather’ did not achieve the greater poignancy for me which the backdrop is supposed to give them.

Some of the items seemed inane and pointless:

And then it is another day and another and another, but I will not go on about this because no doubt you too have experienced time.”

Other items were quite banal:

I go to get my permanent crown. I have been putting off my dental work, but now I go. The hygienist talks to me about the weather. The dentist comes in with his gloved hands and mask. He says I have an unusually small mouth. I open it wider for him.”

For me ‘Weather’ was insubstantial, mildly interesting chatter with no big ideas that hold all of the various concerns together.

When I am asked to confront the dreadful state of the nation and much of the world, I want more than cute tidbits.


Grade:    C+




12 responses to this post.

  1. Um. Not for me, I fear!

    Liked by 2 people


  2. This one didn’t really work for me either and I liked Dept of Speculation a lot. I didn’t think it added up to much at all, although some of the passages were really affecting.

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Cathy,
      I just reread my review of ‘Dept. of Speculation’, and I really did like it a lot. It is difficult to get worked up about climate change when there are more immediate problems in the world like coronavirus and Trump.



  3. I broadly agree. Much preferred Dept of Speculation.

    Liked by 1 person


  4. My husband and I glanced at it, and he said, “Look, anyone can write a novel!” I’ll keep my eyes open for Dept. of Spec, since people do carry on about her writing.

    Liked by 1 person


  5. I dithered over whether I would or wouldn’t when all the hype about this was in full swing, and then succumbed when I heard her interviewed at the Edinburgh (digital) Festival.
    I’ve probably wasted my money… oh well…

    Liked by 1 person


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