The places we are born come back. They disguise themselves as migraines, stomach aches, insomnia. They are the way we sometimes wake falling, fumbling for the bedside lamp, certain everything we’ve built has gone in the night. We become strangers to the places we are born. They would not recognize us but we will always recognize them. They are marrow to us; they are bred into us. If we were turned inside out there would be maps cut into the wrong side of our skin. Just so we can find our way back. Except, cut wrong side into my skin are not canals and train tracks and a boat, but always: you.
It’s been sixteen years since Gretel last saw her mother, half a lifetime to forget her childhood on the canals. But a phone call will soon reunite them, and bring those wild years flooding back: the secret language that she and her mother invented; the strange boy, Marcus, living on the boat that final winter; the creature said to be underwater, swimming ever closer.
In the end there will be nothing for Gretel to do but to wade deeper into their past, where family secrets and aged prophesies will all come tragically alive again.
They say that blood is thicker than water, and this novel is an unexpected mix of both—it has carried me on its waves, drowning me under its raging currents. It’s a heady meditation on language and memory, as we follow the story of a mother and daughter living on a boat by a river. We meet various characters, each more unique than the last. I was hypnotized by the description of life on the canals, it’s almost like being in an alternate universe. The river being an unforgettable character itself, with its strange moods and personality.
The author encourages the reader to examine the concept of fear, how we unconsciously make it into something more than it actually is, and how we also tend to obsess over them that sometimes we forget we should be letting them go.
“Forgetting is, I think, a form of protection.”
It’s a devastating novel that really spoke to my soul as it explored the many times we try to escape toxic family ties, only for fate to bring us together again and again. I read this almost blindly so I wouldn’t say anymore about the plot. I think the updated synopsis of the book’s Goodreads page is quite spoilery already. Skip it and just read the book please 😛
Daisy Johnson’s unique voice is so engaging that after reading this debut novel I wanted more of this intoxicating mix of folklore, contemporary and magical realism. I immediately read her other book: Fen. It’s a collection of short stories occuring in the same “universe” with the same themes as the novel. Though it’s a superb collection in itself, for me it still only serves as a supplement to the masterpiece that is Everything Under. Johnson’s voice is a genre all on its own, and I can’t wait to devour more of her works 💙
“I’d always understood that 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 or that. The past was not a thread trailing behind us but an anchor.”
Overall Rating: 5/5
About the Author
Shortisted for the Man Booker Prize for Everything Under, her debut novel.
Daisy Johnson‘s début short story collection, Fen, was published by Jonathan Cape on the 2nd of June, 2016 and by Graywolf in 2017.
She has been longlisted for the Sunday Times Short Story Award and the New Angle Award for East Anglian writing. She was the winner of the Edge Hill award for a collection of short stories and the AM Heath Prize.
Everything Under by Daisy Johnson
Hardcover, 264 pages
Published July 12th 2018 by Jonathan Cape
ISBN 191070234X (ISBN13: 9781910702345)
Literary Awards: Booker Prize, Shirley Jackson Award, Desmond Elliott Prize
Genres: Fiction | Magical Realism | Literary Fiction | Contemporary
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