Immediately upon its publication in Ireland, Claire-Louise Bennett’s debut began to attract attention well beyond the expectations of the tiny Irish press that published it. A deceptively slender volume, it captures with utterly mesmerizing virtuosity the interior reality of its unnamed protagonist, a young woman living a singular and mostly solitary existence on the outskirts of a small coastal village. Sidestepping the usual conventions of narrative, it focuses on the details of her daily experience—from the best way to eat porridge or bananas to an encounter with cows—rendered sometimes in story-length, story-like stretches of narrative, sometimes in fragments no longer than a page, but always suffused with the hypersaturated, almost synesthetic intensity of the physical world that we remember from childhood. The effect is of character refracted and ventriloquized by environment, catching as it bounces her longings, frustrations, and disappointments—the ending of an affair, or the ambivalent beginning with a new lover. As the narrator’s persona emerges in all its eccentricity, sometimes painfully and often hilariously, we cannot help but see mirrored there our own fraught desires and limitations, and our own fugitive desire, despite everything, to be known.
Shimmering and unusual, Pond demands to be devoured in a single sitting that will linger long after the last page.
Read below for my spoiler-free review.
I picked up Pond after hurriedly reading its blurb in a bookstore, and I was immediately intrigued–luckily, I was able to borrow an e-book the next day, and here we are.
(This book is very quotable so there will be lots of quotes, thanks for bearing with me)
Pond is not a book I would normally read, but there were a lot of enticing reviews that piqued my curiosity. Pond was much different than I was expected, but not in a bad way. It’s made up of several short narratives about completely random things, connected in no way, shape, or form. There isn’t a storyline to follow, it’s complete stream of consciousness. We read from the perspective of an unnamed woman living in a little cottage in Ireland as she goes about her day-to-day activities; there are entire chapters about starting a garden or anecdotes about a piece of wood. As she contemplates these mundane things, she stumbles upon some conclusions that I found deeply insightful and unsettlingly applicable to my own life.
Nobody was taking any notice of me yet there was a lovely comforting sensation that beneficent things were being done for me somewhere. I think, as human experiences go, that is one of my favourite ones.
Bennett, Claire-Louise. Pond (p. 37). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
One thing you’ll have to get past is the strangeness of our narrator–after doing some research (clicking the first link to come up on google), I discovered that, despite her rambling and nonsensical tendencies, she’s not meant to have any sort of mental illness. She just follows her thoughts where they take her, and most of the time it’s very random. She notices things that would never cross my mind, making interesting observations and connections. In her own words:
Peculiar things, yet intimately familiar. Impressions of something I have not perhaps experienced directly. Memories I arrived with.
Bennett, Claire-Louise. Pond (p. 136). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
English, strictly speaking, is not my first language by the way. I haven’t yet discovered what my first language is so for the time being I use English words in order to say things. I expect I will always have to do it that way; regrettably I don’t think my first language can be written down at all. I’m not sure it can be made external you see. I think it has to stay where it is; simmering
English, strictly speaking, is not my first language by the way. I haven’t yet discovered what my first language is so for the time being I use English words in order to say things. I expect I will always have to do it that way; regrettably I don’t think my first language can be written down at all. I’m not sure it can be made external you see. I think it has to stay where it is; simmering in the elastic gloom betwixt my flickering organs.
Bennett, Claire-Louise. Pond (pp. 41-42). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
It is surprisingly uplifting at times as well, and it definitely made me laugh.
I like worms and have no problem picking them up, which is unusual and thus gives me a clear advantage in certain situations because it means I can fling them at people if I feel like it and that never fails to cheer me up.
Bennett, Claire-Louise. Pond (p. 20). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
I knocked down my rating a couple stars because it does lag a little bit. Since there is no plot, it’s easy to grow tired of the purple prose and poem-like narrative. Also, I’m really glad that I read this on my Kindle, because I needed to look up words quite frequently. I came across totally weird, random words that were oddly specific in meaning. There were also some words that the dictionary couldn’t define (!!). Unless you have a great vocabulary, all of these words will provide a slightly unnecessary struggle. It also makes the novel sound a bit presumptuous.
Overall, Pond was a fast read, but it’s easier to get through when you’re in the mood. I found that reading another book with a couple of chapters of Pond in between kept me interested. It was a unique experience that I would recommend to those who enjoy introspective perspectives.