Okay – like this is a fantastical and experimental spin on Oedipus. I’ve quite enjoyed many of the spins on classical lit I’ve read, Circe (by Madeline Miller) and Nushell (by Ian McEwan) and others. But I did NOT appreciate this one and although I’d be willing to read it again as I do many of the Booker Short List books I read, but not Everything Under.
by Daisy Johnson
2018/ 280 pages
read by Esther Wane – 7h 12m
rating: 3 / fiction
I’m not crazy about experimental lit unless it works more for the story than the experiment. I think Everything Under is good in this respect, I do understand why Johnson did the story this way. And that’s my one positive note about this novel.
I almost never enjoy fantasy or horror (even light) and this is both. Between those elements and the experimental nature of the novel, I was mostly just confused.
Here’s the publisher’s summary:
The dictionary doesn’t contain every word. Gretel, a lexicographer by trade, knows this better than most. She grew up on a houseboat with her mother, wandering the canals of Oxford and speaking a private language of their own invention. Her mother disappeared when Gretel was a teen, abandoning her to foster care, and Gretel has tried to move on, spending her days updating dictionary entries.
One phone call from her mother is all it takes for the past to come rushing back. To find her, Gretel will have to recover buried memories of her final, fateful winter on the canals. A runaway boy had found community and shelter with them, and all three were haunted by their past and stalked by an ominous creature lurking in the canal: the bonak. Everything and nothing at once, the bonak was Gretel’s name for the thing she feared most. And now that she’s searching for her mother, she’ll have to face it.
In this electrifying reinterpretation of a classical myth, Daisy Johnson explores questions of fate and free will, gender fluidity, and fractured family relationships. Everything Under—a debut novel whose surreal, watery landscape will resonate with fans of Fen—is a daring, moving story that will leave you unsettled and unstrung.
I’m not keen on the fad for re-writing other people’s books or ancient myths, especially if they are commissioned because then they don’t even come from the heart. It seems to me (though it’s a generalisation open to exceptions, of course) that novelists (of the serious sort, that is) ought to be commenting on the issues of the day or the near past, using fictional characters to make sense of it. That is what the stories they are rewriting were doing in their day, and a writer who is just rehashing the same themes doesn’t have much that’s new to say and you might as well read the original.
It is said that ‘there is nothing new under the sun’ and stories are ‘universal’ but it’s not really true. I expect a novel to offer original ideas or an angle that I haven’t considered before. Why write about *yawn* fractured family relationships when there’s an entire fractured world to write about?