Review: Fen - Daisy Johnson
Genre: Short Stories, Magical Realism Published: Jonathan Cape, June 2016 My Rating: 4/5 stars
“I know who you are though in a moment I will not. It is getting. I do not remember the word. Soon it will be. How easily they go again. There is no loyalty in language. There is no...”
I was first introduced to Daisy Johnsons writing with her debut novel Everything Under, which became one of my favourites of 2019. As such I was very interested to go back and read her collection of short stories, so when my local bookstore had it in stock I couldn’t resist. Overall I really enjoyed this collection. More specifically, I adored Johnsons writing that has a certain mesmerizing, almost haunting effect on me. There’s a certain daunting undertone to it, like something lurking just beneath the surface that you can’t quite make out fully. With Everything Under, I wasn’t quite sure whether this was a stylistic choice for that novel, as it so perfectly fits the themes of shifting memories and murky canal waters. After this collection, I feel like it might be inherent to Johnsons style.
I personally don’t like it when reviewers “explain” individual stories in depth in their review, so as always I’ll mention only the titles of some of my favourite stories, and leave the rest up to yourself to discover. Instead, I’d like to talk about the title of the collection for a little bit, as I feel it’s a good representative of the content in this case. Being a non-native English speaker, I didn’t actually know what a “Fen” was, so I had to google it. Unprepared as I was, I found myself tumbling down a rabbit hole of secondary meanings and Norse mythology, that make a lot of sense in the context of the book, and if intentional, make Daisy Johnson quite a genius for packing so much in just the title alone. The same goes for many of the stories inside: there’s a lot to unpack in most of them, and I feel like this is the perfect kind of collection to read multiple times, discovering new things upon every return. With many short-story collections, I’m content reading them just once or twice, only to then pass them on to a friend or a second-hand bookstore. Fen is one that will join my small shelf of collections that I do keep around, joining the likes of The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night and The Girl Aquarium (both by Jen Campbel) and By Light we Knew our Names by Anne Valente. I feel like Fen would fit perfectly among them on my shelf, as it reminds me in many ways of them.
With its darker tones and, for lack of a better word, “murky” atmosphere, this collection probably won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you happen to have a taste for this type of story, this one will be a treat.
My favourite stories: The Superstition of Albatross, A Heavy Devotion, Language and The Lighthousekeeper
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