book review: Weather by Jenny Offill

37506228

 

WEATHER by Jenny Offill
★★☆☆☆
Knopf, 2020

 

I don’t think this is a bad book at all, I want to make that clear right away.  I think Jenny Offill is a talented writer, and that she achieves everything she set out to achieve with this little book, a potent commentary on the impossibility of balancing every day domesticity with encroaching anxiety about the climate crisis.

But with that said… I didn’t particularly like it?  I mostly found this book incredibly forgettable.  It was a short, breezy read, but for whatever reason I didn’t have time to read it in a single sitting, and every time I put it down and picked it back up, I couldn’t remember where I had left off.  I had to constantly remind myself who was who – Ben, Eli, Henry, I think were their names, but even now I couldn’t tell you who was the husband, brother, and son – and there was nothing about Lizzie’s story in particular that justified to me why this was the particular story that Offill chose to tell.  I ultimately just needed a bit more from it, but I think that’s on me rather than the author.  Maybe I’ve just read a few too many navel-gazing literary novels lately for this to shine through.


You can pick up a copy of Weather here on Book Depository.


Women’s Prize 2020 reviews: Dominicana | Fleishman is in Trouble | Girl | How We Disappeared | Weather

Women’s Prize 2020 Longlist Reaction

It’s here!  (The below are affiliate links – if you order any of these from this post I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.)

Some quick stats:

6 UK authors/6 US authors/1 Singapore/1 India/2 Ireland

7 authors of color/9 white authors

4 debuts

I got 4 predictions correct

At the time the longlist was announced I had only read… 1/4 of one book!  A record low for me.

So, initial thoughts were that I was a little disappointed at all the heavy hitters on the list: I do love a good debut-heavy longlist.  That said, I’m getting more excited to read it and I cannot wait to discuss the list with you guys in the upcoming months.

My plans:

I have the following out from the library:

Weather: I’m halfway through this and so far I’m enjoying it but it’s not exactly knocking my socks off like it has done for so many other readers.  Full thoughts to come hopefully in a few days.

Dominicana: I started this last night and I’m not at all crazy about the writing style, but I’m also only 20% in.

Girl: I’m a little wary of this one but also a little excited?  Will start soon.

How We Disappeared: Possibly my biggest unpopular literary opinion is that I don’t mind a good WWII novel every now and then, so I have high hopes for this!

I have the following on hold:

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line: This does not seem like my kind of book, but I’ve also heard it’s good and a quick read, so I’m fine with giving it a go.

Fleishman is in Trouble: Ugh.  This is the one I’m most annoyed about.  I have not heard good things and this does not seem like something I will enjoy at all.

Queenie: Ooh, yes!  Nearly made my predictions list.  I’m excited.

Actress: Never read Anne Enright but I’m really excited for this!

Girl, Woman, Other: FINALLY a concrete excuse to read this.  It’s such a shame that I haven’t made time for it before now.

The Most Fun We Ever Had: I must have read this summary four or five times and it has never made any impression on me.  It’s also very long.  We’ll see how this goes.

Hamnet: Very very very excited to read this.

The Dutch House: Meh?  I’ve not had the best history with Ann Patchett – I DNF’d Bel Canto and I 3 starred Commonwealth.  I do like the sound of this one though so hopefully it works for me.

Red At the Bone: Another meh.  I’ve only read one Woodson and it did absolutely nothing for me.

I ordered the following:

A Thousand Ships: I’d been holding out for a US publisher for over a year, but fuck it.  I am SO excited for this book and so happy to finally read it.

Nightingale Point: Never heard of it, didn’t even read the summary, I just placed an order.

Which leaves:

The Mirror & The Light: TBD.  I’ve not read Wolf Hall so that complicates things for me.  I’m going to save this one for last – if I don’t get around to it by the time the winner is announced, oh well; but who knows, maybe I’ll finish the longlist by early May and have ample time to devote to this trilogy.  We’ll see!


Finally, I just wanted to talk about some snubs real quick:

The Fire Starters by Jan Carson: My favorite novel of 2019 never got the attention it deserved, and this was really its last chance to show up on a big literary prize list, so I’m a little heartbroken.  Just – please read this.

The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy: This is a brilliant brilliant BRILLIANT book – I cannot state that enough.  It almost definitely deserved a spot over some that made it onto the list.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood: ding dong the witch is dead

Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellman: Mixed feelings about this not showing up; in a way I’d kind of have liked the excuse to read it!  But on the other hand, the length is pretty scary when it’s up next to 15 other books I’m also trying to read in a set period of time.


Other reaction posts:


What are your thoughts about the longlist?  What are you happy/unhappy to see and what are you happy/unhappy to see snubbed?  What are your reading plans?  Comment with all things Women’s Prize!

Reading Ireland Month 2020 TBR

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… Reading Ireland Month!

You can read Cathy’s post about it HERE, but basically, it’s what it says on the tin: you read Irish books throughout the month of March.  You can read exclusively Irish lit all month, or you can mix it up – I’ll probably end up doing the latter since March is when the Women’s Prize longlist gets announced, but I still want to cram in as much Irish lit as I can.

Cathy laid out a schedule which you are welcome to follow, should you so desire:

2nd – 8th March – Contemporary Irish Novels

9th – 15th March – Classic Irish Novels

16th – 22nd March – Irish Short Story Collections

23rd – 29th March – Irish Non-Fiction

Last year I themed my reading around the schedule and it worked out really well, but this year I think I’m going to do things a bit more free-form.

Before you see this massive list and panic on my behalf, I am under NO illusions that I will read all of these books in March.  This is just a selection off my shelves that I feel particularly drawn to at this moment in time.  Who knows what I’ll end up going for.

So without further ado, here are some of the books I’m thinking about picking up in March:

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan
If All the World and Love Were Young by Stephen Sexton
The Dregs of the Day by Máirtín Ó Cadhain
The Cruelty Men by Emer Martin
For the Good Times by David Keenan
The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor
Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel
Being Various edited by Lucy Caldwell
The Long Gaze Back edited by Sinéad Gleeson

Honestly I think if I manage to read even 2 or 3 of these, I will be happy!  Or maybe I’ll read something else entirely, but this list is what I’m feeling drawn toward at this very moment.  So there you have it.  Have you read any of these, and what are your Reading Ireland Month plans?  Comment and let me know!

Women’s Prize 2020 Longlist Predictions

In case you missed it, I recently spent way too long on this post in which I compiled every longlist in the history of the Women’s Prize.  So just in case it wasn’t clear from that alone: I love this prize, a lot.  And I have been working on my predictions list probably for the last six months (sadly not an exaggeration).  So, here we go!

I’m going to start with a wishlist of sorts – only 8 books – that I will explain in the paragraph down below, then I will move on to my predictions.

Wishlist

My wishlist falls into 2 categories: books I’ve read that I think deserve to make the list, and books I haven’t read, that I’m desperate to read, and I hope to see them on the longlist so I finally have an excuse to read them.  Some of these will show up on my predictions list below; some will not.

Have read/adored:

The Fire Starters by Jan Carson
Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips
The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy
The Body Lies by Jo Baker

Have yet to read:

Bunny by Mona Awad
Supper Club by Lara Williams
Strange Hotel by Eimear McBride
The Island Child by Molly Aitken

Now let’s move on to the main event.

I told Hannah I would not look at her list until I posted my own, but I cheated and peaked at it and I loved that she included whether the author had been longlisted in the past and whether she personally wanted to see the books longlisted, so I am stealing that format.

Longlist prediction

40046059

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

This National Book Award winner has been incredibly Marmite, which I have to say I’m intrigued by.  While I personally know quite a few people who hated it, the widespread literary praise it’s received can’t be ignored, which I think makes it a solid contender.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  Honestly, it would not be my first, second, or third choice.

40723753._sy475_

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

This historical mystery about a maid accused of murder was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel award, and I’ve seen so much other praise for it, especially in the UK.  I think it’s a solid contender.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No – debut.

Would I be happy to see it?  Yes!  I’d love to read this.

50214741

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré

I don’t know too much about this, but I keep seeing it crop up in ‘2020 debuts to look out for’ lists.  I think it’s a Nigerian coming of age tale about a young girl advocating for her education – seems very Women’s Prize to me.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No – debut.

Would I be happy to see it?  Sure!

41081373._sy475_

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

This co-Booker winner is a bit of an obvious choice.  It’s received so much praise, and I think the general mood about it is indignation that it was not the sole Booker winner.  (That also explains my omission of The Testaments from my own predictions – while there are hardly American Dirt levels of ill-will toward it, I do think on the whole people are a bit tired of it, and I have to wonder if Atwood herself may have asked that it not be submitted to the Women’s Prize.  She seemed a bit embarrassed by the Booker co-win, honestly.)

Has the author been longlisted before?  Yes.

Would I be happy to see it?  YES.  It is a crime that I haven’t read this book.

45992717

The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel

I think it’s fair to assume that this one is going to show up on just about every prize list this year.  I haven’t actually read Mantel yet, but I’ve heard so many good things about her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, which The Mirror & The Light will be concluding.  Both Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies made the Women’s Prize shortlist in years past, and – notably – both won the Booker.  I think this one is a pretty safe prediction.

Has the author been longlisted before?  Shortlisted 3 times and longlisted 1 time beyond that.

Would I be happy to see it?  It’s inevitable but no.  I really, really, really want to read the Wolf Hall trilogy, but I also want to read the entire longlist and the thought of reading a whole trilogy on top of 16 books stresses me out.  I should have read Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies this month to prepare.

45893518._sy475_

Strange Hotel by Eimear McBride

I also think this one is a safe prediction, and if it doesn’t make the longlist, I think it will be because the word count fell short.  It seems to be borderline, so it’s hard to predict without knowing the exact word count, but I’m going out on a limb and throwing it on here.  McBride’s debut A Girl is a Half-formed Thing won, and her sophomore novel The Lesser Bohemians was also longlisted.  I’ve heard excellent things about this one too.

Has the author been longlisted before?  1 time winner, 1 time longlister beyond that.

Would I be happy to see it?  YES.  I am DYING to read this.

45018589._sy475_

The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste

Another one I don’t know too much about – Italian invasion of Ethiopia, I think?  This made its way onto my predictions list when I felt I was lacking those ‘epic length historical fiction’ picks.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  Not really.

46638435._sy475_

Long Bright River by Liz Moore

One thing that struck me when I was scrolling through past longlisters was just how many crime novels have been longlisted in the past.  I feel like the Women’s Prize has been moving away from mysteries and thrillers in recent years, but the fact that Paula Hawkins is on the judging panel this year gives me an inkling that we might see at least one literary thriller on the list.  Long Bright River seems the obvious choice for a lot of reasons – Moore is a versatile author who’s written literary fiction in the past, this novel tackles Serious Issues (the opioid crisis, namely), and it was blurbed by – you guessed it! – Paula Hawkins.  It was a great, solid, well-written thriller that I would not mind seeing on the list, even if my personal choice for a thriller would be The Body Lies, if we can just have one.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  Sure, I think it’s deserving.

48143586._sy475_

Inland by Téa Obreht

Obreht won the Women’s Prize for her brilliant novel The Tiger’s Wife back in 2011, and her follow-up Inland had been a long time coming.  It sounds incredibly different, other than both of them being historical fiction, but Obreht is such a strong writer I would not be surprised to see this on there.

Has the author been longlisted before?  Winner!

Would I be happy to see it?  Not really.  I loved The Tiger’s Wife but the summary of this one does not appeal.

43268770._sy475_

Girl by Edna O’Brien

O’Brien is such a prolific and esteemed author I was a bit shocked to see that she’s only been longlisted once in the past, but I still feel confident that her newest novel, Girl, is going to make the list this year.  Set in Nigeria, this follows the girls who are kidnapped by the Boko Haram.  It sounds harrowing, but I also think it will spark some conversations about #ownvoices in literary fiction should it get longlisted.

Has the author been longlisted before?  Yes.

Would I be happy to see it?  Torn.  I desperately want to read more Edna O’Brien (I’ve only read one short story, but it was brilliant), but I’m not convinced this is the best place to start for me.

43890641._sy475_

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Her upcoming novel inspired by Shakespeare and his son is quite a departure for Maggie O’Farrell – I don’t think she’s written historical fiction before?  It’s been getting quite a bit of buzz and I would not at all be surprised to see it longlisted.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No, surprisingly!

Would I be happy to see it?  Yes!!!

34563821._sy475_

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

This literary-mystery hybrid set in a remote Russian peninsula is such a brilliant depiction of a culture and community that is so often neglected by western literary fiction.  I think it’s a brilliant depiction of a rural community torn apart by tragedy and also by racism against its indigenous population – I would be delighted to see it longlisted.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No – debut.

Would I be happy to see it?  YES YES YES.

44890081

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Another literary thriller of sorts, this one explores the long-lasting psychological damage on a young woman by the teacher she had been involved with in high school.  This has been on my TBR for so long that I’ll be a little gutted if it doesn’t make the list, but I do intend to read it soon either way.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No – debut.

Would I be happy to see it?  God yes!

41543272._sy475_

Bina by Anakana Schofield

Requite Canadian pick!  I honestly don’t know a whole lot about this other than that people have been raving about it and that it was blurbed by Eimear McBride and Rachel Cusk.  Seems like a safe bet.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  No strong feelings either way.

42584178

Supper Club by Lara Williams

Williams’ sophomore novel is about a secret society of women who meet after dark to feast.  I don’t know anything more and I don’t need to.  I just desperately want to read this.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  Absolutely!

jeanette-winterson-frankissstein

Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson

Winterson’s novel is a sort of playful retelling of Frankenstein that ticks so many feminist boxes that I will be incredibly surprised if it’s not longlisted.

Has the author been longlisted before?  Yes, twice.

Would I be happy to see it?  It wouldn’t be my top choice for the Booker crossover (team Levy!!!), but I did enjoy it, so sure.


There you have it.  If you’ve done your own Women’s Prize longlist predictions, please link me!  Otherwise, comment and let me know what you expect to see on the list!


Other longlist predictions on my radar:

wrap up: February 2020

  1. Long Bright River by Liz Moore ★★★★☆ | review
  2. Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey ★★☆☆☆ | review
  3. The Snow Collectors by Tina May Hall ★★★★☆ | review
  4. Saint X by Alexis Schatkin ★★★★☆ | review to come for BookBrowse
  5. The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams ★★☆☆☆ | review to come
  6. We Are Okay by Nina LaCour ★★★★☆ | review to come
  7. Optic Nerve by Maria Gainza | review and rating to come

Omitting my favorite of the month section because honestly, there wasn’t a stand-out, though I thoroughly enjoyed everything I 4-starred (and I’m enjoying Optic Nerve as well – I’ll finish it by the end of the day).

FEBRUARY TOTAL: 7
YEARLY TOTAL: 14

Other posts from February:

February was an excellent month!  I just got back yesterday from spending a week in LA – one of my favorite cities – with some of my favorite people.

Highlights included:

Spending the day at Universal with Will and Jess, the dream team behind one of my favorite blogs, Books and Bao.  If you don’t follow them, you need to rectify that immediately, because they are genuinely wonderful, delightful people who shine a light on translated fiction from around the world in their excellent blog.

Attending Brandon Taylor‘s book event at Skylight Books for his debut novel Real Life.  Brandon is one of my favorite personalities on Twitter, and he was such an engaging and intelligent speaker.  If his book tour is coming to your city, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Spending four straight days with my friend Abby going down a BTS rabbit hole.  Honestly it’s the most fun I’ve had in ages so I’m not even going to apologize for how silly this is.  If you’re into BTS, comment and tell me who your bias is!

Anyway, due to the fact that I was gone for a week and didn’t take my laptop, I am VERY BEHIND on blogging and replying to comments.  Bear with me!  Also comment and tell me what you’ve been up to lately!

And the next post you can expect to see from me is my Women’s Prize 2020 longlist prediction.  I’m finishing that up as we speak.

Currently reading:

40046084

What was the best book you read in February?  Comment and let me know!

P.S. Follow me!  @ Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram | Letterboxd | Ko-fi

book review: Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey

45754997

 

TOPICS OF CONVERSATION by Miranda Popkey
★★☆☆☆
Knopf, January 2020

 

In a way I feel a bit bad contributing to this book’s overwhelmingly negative reception, because I do think it has more going for it than its low Goodreads rating might suggest, and I can see where others could get something out of it.  But at the same time, this did literally nothing for me, so here we are.

The Rachel Cusk comparisons are a dime a dozen, and I will spare you from that seeing as I’ve never read Rachel Cusk; I will instead address the Sally Rooney comparisons.  Both authors interrogate themes on womanhood, sex, sexuality, and give voice to a subset of young women who may have never seen these topics addressed so starkly in fiction.  But for me the difference between these two authors lies in the fact that Rooney explores themes through character, and Popkey explores themes at the expense of character.  The aptly unnamed narrator of Topics of Conversation feels like a prototype of Generic Young Woman Angst – maybe that’s the point, maybe not – but her struggles all felt very Grand and Societal without being grounded in the microcosm enough to hold my interest.  Basically: this is a book of commentary and ideas, and that’s not an inherently bad or valueless thing; I just failed to engage with it.

Anyway, the thing that actually grated on me more than anything was Popkey’s writing.  This book is largely told in chunks of dialogue; characters relaying monologues to the narrator.  I found that Popkey attempted to imitate the features of verbal speech in a way that came across to me as forced and labored; it was peak stylized MFA-prose.   “Her hair was down and her cheeks were stiff and pink from smiling and the freckles on her neck, down her forearms, dotting her ankles, they were shining, they were giving off some kind of heat, she was glowing.”

Again, I don’t think this was a bad book, and if it interests you, I’d definitely encourage you to pick it up; it just wasn’t what I was looking for and I found it rather unremarkable at the end of the day.


You can pick up a copy of Topics of Conversation here on Book Depository.

book review: Little Gods by Meng Jin | BookBrowse

43386055

 

LITTLE GODS by Meng Jin
★★★★☆
Custom House, January 2020

 

Little Gods, Meng Jin’s intricate, emotionally intelligent debut, opens with a scene in which physicist Su Lan gives birth in Beijing in 1989. Through the eyes of a nurse working the night shift, we learn that inside the hospital, Su Lan is abandoned by her husband, while outside, the violence of the June 4th Tiananmen Square Massacre erupts around her. The narrative then skips forward 17 years to Su Lan’s death.

The novel unfolds in a non-linear fashion; in the opening chapters we’re introduced to a shadow of the woman that Su Lan becomes—a distant, hardworking single mother—before we delve into the past and begin to reconstruct her character.

You can read the rest of my review HERE on BookBrowse, and you can read a piece I wrote about the Tienanmen Square Massacre HERE.


You can pick up a copy of Little Gods here on Book Depository.