Everything Under ~ by Daisy Johnson x2

Okay – so I had to try it again and yes, the book was a LOT better the second time. I even suppose that yes, it does belong on the Booker List, maybe even the Short List, but it’s not a winner, not this year, not against Milkman by Anna Burns. Still, it’s a worthwhile read.

Where Milkman was somewhat experimental, Everything Under is decidedly more so with an irregular chronology and dream-like sequences set into a very complex plot with odd characters. The 1st person narrator, Gretel, indulges in wordplay. Essentially, it’s a current day take-off on Oedipus Rex including a blind seer and a River Styx (river of death) – among other things.

Everything Under 
by Daisy Johnson
2018/ 280 pages
read by Esther Wane – 7h 12m
rating: 8 / fiction 

(both read and listened)

It’s not light reading so I went slowly with the Kindle propped next to my computer for the print perspective. The writing style is quite interesting with unusual metaphors and words. Pronouns were used way more than in conventional novels and that got confusing.

Still the novel is delicately imagined and nicely written and I certainly appreciate that. It’s just that the plot is a wee bit too weird for me to really relax and enjoy although there were parts where I did that.

Gretel’s mother abandoned her when she was 16 years old and Gretel has searched for her ever since – another 16 years. One day Mom re-appear in Gretel’s life. Mother and daughter had had a kind of magical life on the banks of the Isis River (Thames) north of London. They had even invented their own language, but then suddenly it was over and Gretel was in foster care. Gretel remembers parts of this as she tries to care for her Sarah, her mother, and Sarah remembers it differently.
The unreliable nature of memory along with the diminishing faculties of age are major themes

As an adult, Gretel works as a lexicographer. She is single and alone. Meanwhile, Sarah, is old and sometimes either loses her words or gets them mixed up But the pair share memories and then they look for the third person in their river trio of long ago, Marcus. But also threaded through the narrative is Marcus’ sad story and bits of Fiona’s, a blind fellow traveler (who is a seer) along the river with her own kind of creepy mystique.

It really is quite a good book.

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4 Responses to Everything Under ~ by Daisy Johnson x2

  1. Thank you for your review. I’m considering reading it but am undecided at this point. So many books, so little time!!


    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s the truth! The connections to the classic are numerous but they’re not necessary to grasp the novel. The novel is challenging and I’d suggest reading instead or in addition to listening.


  2. Carmen says:

    Sounds weird, but I suspect I would like it because of its Classical connection.


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