I started Claire-Louise Bennett's debut novel Pond with only the suggestion that it was one of the most anticipated and intriguing books of the year. Like all great books, it's best to go in blind and let the author teach you the rules of their world as you go. So if you trust me, I suggest clicking out of this and simply picking up a copy.
If you didn't heed my advice, Bennett's novel centers around a remarkably perceptive and somewhat unhinged narrator who has sheltered herself into a cottage in the countryside. For most of the book we're not exactly sure where, and it really doesn't matter. Mostly the unnamed narrator's days are concerned with tending her garden and thinking about plants, rearranging decorations and furniture, discussing upcoming community events and the party she plans to have, and then what I would call prolonged metaphysical ruminations--or what she terms "minor foibles." Take for instance the moment she comes upon a jarring, unnecessary sign introducing the pond near her cottage:
"One sets off to investigate you see, to develop the facility to really notice things so that, over time, and with enough practice, one becomes attuned to the earth’s embedded logos and can experience the enriching joy of moving about in deep and direct accordance with things. Yet invariably this vital process is abruptly thwarted by an idiotic overlay of literal designations... How will I ever make myself at home here if there are always these meddlesome scaremongering signs everywhere I go?"
Through close and tactile examination the narrator's inner life begins to emerge and the story takes off. We learn that there is an unresolved love in her past, or possibly more than one. After a stretch of sobriety she realizes her drinking has both encouraged and distorted all of her past relationships. Sorting through storage she finds an old "love letter intent on pushing right into every corrosive crevice and scabrous contour of its own impossibility." The love is dead, but the letter is suddenly alive for her now no longer attached to the passion of the first reading. This rupture opens up a flood of thoughts, emotions, and requisite actions that feel immediate and real--at least from my experience of rereading emails. Later Bennett focuses her powers on describing the turmoil of seeing an unknown young man coming past her house. Then the collective staring of a confused heard of cows, their coordinated but still chaotic movements. The way raindrops will continue to fall long after the storm has past, dropping slowly from one leaf to the next, making their way to the forest floor.
Because the book is from Riverhead and I'm an American, I assumed this unnamed cottage town was somewhere in America until I came to the line "I live on the most westerly point of Europe." I then frantically flipped back to the title page and discovered the novel was first published in Ireland. I also discovered that the chapters were actually stories, published as earlier versions in various journals, and I realized this wasn't a novel at all. I felt duped, and I picture Bennett being pleased by that.