Genre: Literary Fiction
Published: Jonathan Cape, july 2018
My rating: 5 stars
"There are more beginnings than there are ends to contain them."
Daisy Johnson earned herself a very much deserved place on the Man Booker longlist 2018 with this stunning debut novel. Everything under is an exploration of the murky depths of memory, set in an equally gloomy and atmospheric world of canalboats, muddy riverbanks and creatures of folklore that may or may not lurk in the waters.
Although it’s masterfully crafted, it’s not an easy book to read; the author really makes you work for it. During the first 100 pages I was as lost as the characters were, and although this might not make for the most pleasant of reading experiences, it fits the themes of the book perfectly. Just like the protagonists memories, the world of Everything under is shifty, volatile and non-linear. Similarly, just like memories, the chapters are not marked by date, but by setting or by being “pre- or post-” certain major memories, that act as anchors for the other ones to be linked to.
Again; this is doesn’t make it easier for the reader, but personally I loved this aspect of the book. I’m fascinated by the way we remember. Even though we perceive our own memory as some infallible and unchanging database, the truth is far from that. This novel is one of the most striking representations of that nature I have had the pleasure of reading.
Yet there is so much more to the novel than just that. It’s packed to the brim with interesting ideas and themes. Some might say “overpacked”, and although it walks a thin line, the author manages to keep things connected enough to pull it off.
It talks about language, about folklore, about family relationships, gender and fear. All through the same lens of fluidity and mutability, which ties everything together. I would love to go indepth on all of them especially the exploration of fear via a creature of folklore, but as this is such a new release I want to keep this review completely spoiler-free.
Speaking of spoilers; my one point of critique would be towards the marketing-team. I don’t know if this was intentional, or a interpretation by first reviewers, but the book was marketed to be a reworking of a certain Greek myth. Personally, I would have preferred not knowing this before going in. Firstly; this is only one of the storylines and not representative of the entire book. Secondly; being familiar with the myth “spoiled” this storyline a little for me, as I read this entire storyline through the lens of knowing what was to come.
As a final note I would like to touch on the prose, which in one work was spectacular. It’s one of those rare cases where you know based on a debut alone, that you may have found a new favorite author for years to come. I cannot wait to see what this young woman does next