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Everything Under Hardcover – 12 July 2018
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"Saturated in mythology and fairy tales, Everything Under is weird and wild and wonderfully unsettling. Daisy Johnson writes in a torrent of language as unrelenting and turbulent and dark as the river at the book’s heart; dive in for just a moment and you’ll emerge gasping and haunted" (Celeste Ng)
"The kind of book that worms its way into your brain, leaving echoes of its story and world long after it is back on the shelf… beautifully creepy and affecting" (Rebecca Nicholson Observer)
"A stunning debut novel. Blending a deep understanding of character and storytelling examination… the result reminds me of Iris Murdoch… Johnson’s affinity for the natural world is extraordinary" (Jeff VanderMeer Guardian)
"Everything Under grabbed me from the first page and wouldn’t let me go. To read Daisy Johnson is to have that rare feeling of meeting an author you’ll read for the rest of your life." (Evie Wyld)
"Everything Under is a force of nature ... Like Iris Murdoch's 1954 novel Under the Net, Johnson's Man Booker Prize finalist is concerned with language, secrets and the damage wrought by what's left unsaid." (Tobias Grey New York Times Book Review)
"Imaginative and innovative... there is a spellbinding tension. As the threads move towards a common end, you’re a child who wants to know the magic." (Jonathan McAloon Irish Times)
"A formally ambitious novel with a thriller’s heart and intimate attention to the power of language." (Vanity Fair)
"I’m under the spell of an extraordinary book… Everything Under [is] a gift from a wise and empathetic friend who understands the gypsy gift of storytelling – to transcend and enthral." (Laura Bailey Vogue)
"A triumph: a novel that feels inexorable, messy and profound all at once." (Anna Leszkiewicz New Statesman)
From the Back Cover
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Gretel works as a lexicographer, defining words for the dictionary. Words played a hugely important role in Gretel's childhood and upbringing with her mother on a canal boat on the river.
It's not until Gretel is abandoned by her mother at 16 years old and sucked into the care and schooling system that she realises just how important words are. Her mother had brought her up using completely made up words that Gretel had no idea did not exist in normal everyday language in the outside world. Gretel and her mother Sarah live an isolated life, it's them against the world and sometimes Sarah against Gretel. Sarah clearly suffers with mental illness and alcoholism when Gretel is growing up and their lives are far from stable.
After her mother's abandonment Gretel finds herself as an adult, trying to locate her mother. Ringing hospitals and morgues, trying to trace Sarah in order that she might be able to answer some questions and fill in some blanks in Gretel's childhood memories of their time on the boat. Gretel has vague recollections of a boy called Marcus who came to stay with them on the boat one winter for a month. She has only a patchy memory and feels she needs to know exactly what happened to him.
We follow Gretel's childhood, the search for her mother and the present day having found her mother back on the river. In the present day Gretel is struggling with a clearly ailing mother, with what appears to be some form of altzheimers or dementia. A woman who Gretel wants to take care of but at the same time shake the truth out of.
We also learn of Marcus's story, his links to Sarah and Gretel and the family he is estranged from and just what happened to him that winter he stayed on the river. A winter where Sarah and Gretel are obsessed with the 'Bonak', a river dwelling creature responsible for stealing items, animals, humans.....Marcus is already wary of what the river people are calling the Canal Thief, a creature that lives in the water but walks on land. A creature the canal communities are terrified of.
The timeline of this book jumps all over the place but the chapters are clearly headed up to show what time thread you're in.
The writing is just so beautiful and atmospheric that I can't even begin to do it justice. Lyrical, with such depth. Highly evocative, depicting the landscape, the river, the wildness of Sarah and Gretel and their tumultuous relationship.
The characters all had many layers to discover. The character of Sarah I found absolutely fascinating. Troubled, bohemian, wild. Gretel by comparison, desperate to belong, desperate for normality. And Marcus, confused, lonely, abandoned, just wanting so much to belong.
There were points in this book where my jaw dropped. There were points where I had to go back and reread what I had just read and let it sink in. Even the introduction had me thinking, had my brain ticking, had me tingling in anticipation of what I knew was to be an amazing book. I was not wrong. The sense of creeping realisation as the true horror of events unfolded just held me captivated.
It's so difficult to put across the sheer magic of this book without giving too much away. I really want everyone to read it so that I have someone to talk to about it. I know that this book will stay ticking over in my mind for some time to come. I was going to say it feels almost fairytale-esque but I think that would be wrong. It's more mythical, magical, perfect.
Utterly absorbing and compelling. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
But to return to Everything Under, I struggled with this book and found it almost unreadable. It's hard to work out who is who and what relationship they have to each other, or when the action is taking place as it's constantly shifting (apparently) from one period to another with very little to guide the reader as to what's going on. The trendy authorial trick of first person addressing another character as "you" creates a gulf between author and reader, as if the reader is eavesdropping on some private correspondence that makes little sense to them. As I said, there is evidence here to suggest that Daisy Johnson is a writer of talent and promise, and I'm sure she will go on to write better novels and possibly a worthy Booker winner - but to suggest that this book may be it does a disservice to both the author and the prize.
Perhaps my strongest objection to this novel is that much of it's power rests on the presumed alienation of people who live on boats - we are shown a picture of drunken, half mad, slightly fey people living outside of normal society with more than merely loose morals and passing a row of dilapidated moorings it would be easy to feel that they might be like that. But equally, the skill with which it is written makes it seem possibly true and the picture of the way living with an alcoholic destroys normal life is depressingly believable.
Daisy Johnson has created a small, wet, dark world with it's own relentless logic and all the characters are tightly bound together. There is little light in it and what there is, is snuffed out quickly.
Top international reviews
While the shape of the narrative is often obscure, the clarity with which the human relationships and actions over decades come together by the end has a terrible beauty.
The book goes beyond my expectations, really a great read! Best fall read for this month :)