Funny Weather: Words we need now, more than ever

Book review: Olivia Laing pens rich portraits of artists, writers and singers from the latter half of the 20th century

Olivia Laing is to the art world what David Attenborough is to nature.

Olivia Laing is to the art world what David Attenborough is to nature.

Pandemic with a chance of hysteria? Funny weather we’re having, indeed. Olivia Laing is a household name when it comes to the subjects of art and loneliness (the latter an all-too-familiar ailment), thanks to her award-winning non-fiction book, The Lonely City, and who better to advise us on art’s ability to change or to help elucidate this liquid landscape that we are currently in? Funny Weather is a collection of Olivia Laing’s interviews, essays, profiles and reviews spanning almost a decade and ranging from love letters addressed to some of her most beloved artists, conversations with Ali Smith and Hilary Mantel and a description of her life living in a self-constructed shelter on an abandoned pig farm in her early twenties. Yes, you’re in for a treat.

There are few voices that we can reliably read widely these days, but I would read Laing writing about proverbial paint drying (the collection is in fact quite paint-heavy), just as soon as I would read her write about the Grenfell Tower fire, The Fire This Time, or a refugee’s experience in England, The Abandoned Person’s Tale, all of which are included in Funny Weather. The overarching organisation of this collection derives from the seminal literary critic, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, who proposed a method of reading called, “reparative reading” as opposed to our usual method of reading, which Kosofsky Sedgwick coined “paranoid reading”. Reparative reading is more interested in the good and the hopeful, rather than reading to confirm the horrors which we already know.

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