Everything Under – Book review

downloadI have finished Everything Under by Daisy Johnson which I recently managed to check out at a second hand book-store at an insanely low price because the lady at the store did not see the Shortlisted The Man Booker Prize 2018 logo emblazoned in the cover . You ‘ ll never know when you will hit the jackpot with book-shopping in second hand book shops . So , onto the book review without any further detours –

Plot summary :

Gretel is a lexicographer who has always been fascinated with words .  During her early childhood , she and her mother , Sarah , lived on a canal boat and words like sheesh time , harpiedoodle , effing were once part of her vocabulary . She didn’t realize her mother had given her a set of words which she had made up herself and nobody else ( except for themselves ) was using them . Sarah had abandoned her when she was sixteen after which she was in and out of different foster homes until she was old enough to leave .

Now , sixteen years later , she is reunited with Sarah and there are several questions , about the past , which are egging her to revisit her foggy memories of the days in the canal boat .  There is : Marcus who came to stay with them the last winter on the boat ,  their private language , the Bonak , the canal – thief . In the end , Gretel has no choice but to revisit those memories .

My thoughts on the book :

This modern day retelling of the Oedipus myth is set in the fen-land landscape .  Sarah is the fen-land Jocasta and ‘ Marcus ‘ ( who turns out to be Margot in disguise ) is the fen-land Oedipus . Now , why do I stress on the landscape ? Simply because , the river landscape peopled with canal-boats ‘ inhabitants and the people in the houses near the river with their lifestyle quite different from regular people , lends the narrative a flavor of its own .

The narrative switches between Gretel’s hunt for her mother , the present and Marcus ‘ story ( in which Gretel tries to imaginatively piece together how Marcus might have turned up on their boat after running away from home ) with only the chapters titled as The Hunt , The Cottage and the River for help with the timeline . The author has trusted the reader to figure out the narrative style & voices without jumping in to help by way of timestamps and stuff like that – I appreciate it very much . ( There have been few books where the author stepped in with narrator’s names / timeline and the plot became too predictable halfway through the book . )

The fact that Johnson has come up with her own words for the mother-daughter duo’s private language is simply mind-blowing . The writing  leans slightly towards hysterical realism , in that , her vignettes convey enough to capture the moment with the important  little details without being too elaborative . The mild hysterical realism  ( what an oxymoron !! ) serves to keep the narrative crisp .  Here is a sample –

The rental car was red and the hospital seemed to be mostly a long corridor . I walked past entrances to the gynecology , respiratory health , private . It smelled of soup warmed up in the staff microwave , burned toast , bleach . [..] “

There are a few passages which I relished , few which I reflected on – in all , the language of this book is at times beautiful / interesting and very engaging  .

” The places we are born come back to us . They disguise themselves as words , memory loss , nightmares . [..] “

” [..] the past did not die just because we wanted it to . The past signed to us : clicks and cracks in the night , misspelled words , the jargon of adverts , the bodies that attracted us or did not , the sounds that reminded us of this and that . The past was not a thread trailing behind us but an anchor . [..]”

” [..] if all our choices are remnants of all the choices we made before . As if decisions were shards from the bombs of our previous actions . “

Rating : 5 / 5

I would definitely urge you to pick up this book if you have not picked it up yet – the rating should say it all .

Click on the link here Everything Under