Book Review

Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett

Pond is great, but like My Chemical Romance, I'm Not OK.

Yes, Pond is yet another book published by Fitzcarraldo Editions that I’m reviewing here. And, yes, my post is going to be gushingly positive, unwavering upbeat and sycophantically hopeful. Yes, their book covers are tastefully simplistic, yes, they publish few books but (to the best of my knowledge) no bad ones (yet), yes, Mathias Enard‘s new book, Compass, is out next week so I may well be returning to them on here in a mere matter of days, but still – no one seems to be putting out so many books that chime so exactly with my personal interests. Eventually we’ll diverge, I’m sure, but right now the publishers at Fitzcarraldo and the consciousness within my flesh prison resonate like a chord of tuning forks. What Fitzcarraldo likes, I like, and it happens organically, wholly, peacefully. It’s beautiful, really, this cohesion, this synergy this-

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Pond is a fucking banger. Pond is either a novel or a collection of stories (in the way that Winesburg, Ohio is) about an unnamed narrator leading a slow, eventless, life somewhere – like in a lot of books I keep reading at the moment – on the West Coast of Ireland1. Her age is vague, it could be anything pre-menopausal from about 25. The narrator doesn’t seem to work, but does appear to have or have had a career, and it may well be that there are pockets of remunerative employment that occur between the cataloged events. I don’t think it matters, but I think many people would; an absence of discussion of money/employment is a common contemporary criticism of fiction, certainly it’s one I’ve read in many places other than those literary magazines read by people who don’t have to – or don’t – worry about money.

Although it doesn’t mention paid work, the book that Bennett has put out, however, is concerned with the mundane, the quotidian. Laundry and recycling and composting, the avoidance of others, the fear of strangers, the need for loneliness. There was a lot I recognised here, the conflicting impulses to move towards other people but also to withdraw from them too, the need for alcohol to feel comfortable amongst strangers, the confused near-ambivalence towards sex/sexuality. Pond is a beautiful, slow, subtle text, where we peer inside the mind and life of someone who is alone but not necessarily lonely, someone who has lovers and friends, and lusts after strange people they see walking about in the middle of the night, but her interest in other people spirals into anxiety, spirals into a psychological, rather than a physical, fear.

This is an engaging text, but a fraught one. This is a text that delves deeply into the present of a narrator but only offers snippets of information about her past. Names are sparse and only attached to the unimportant, locations are vague, both from before and in the present. There are no ages, very few physical descriptions, but other than this there is great detail, volumes of detail, evocative, telling, moving, detail. What is told is telling, too, what is not spoken is significant by its absence. The narrator has connections with the academic world, but in what regard? She has connections within the local community, but how were they fostered? Had she lived there before? Is she more sociable than she implies, has she been more sociable than she implies? How much time has passed since she moved here? Weeks, years, decades? We don’t know and it doesn’t matter.

These are snapshots, beautifully rendered, perceptively told. This is gorgeous contemporary prose, each section more a story than part of a novel because of their internal cohesion. They would – and do – work as separate pieces, but combined together they create a glorious, meditative, whole. Pond holds an intellectualism within its pages, but also a physicality, also a person. This is a closely read evocation of the banality of existence. What is interesting, what is exciting, what is significant, what matters, what resonates internally, what we remember, what we forget and what we ignore. This is life as lived, it is unglamorous and human, it is emotional and physical, it is tactile and it is base. We are animals, alone, scared, horny and confused. Certainly it felt accurate to me.

This is a glorious work, whether marketed as a collection of linked stories or as a novel, Pond offers glimpses into a person and a persona and creates a life, evokes lived experience and moves a reader, deeply. There is humour here, sadness, regret, guilt, and all those other big emotions people like to read about.

Gently experimental prose used to evoke strong, unignorable, reality. This is a great work, worthy of all the (more significant) praise it’s already received.

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I realise this isn’t a very engaged post and I apologise. I’m stressing myself out trying to work out how to create and then maintain momentum with this web series thing, and I’m also stressed and scared about this not drinking thing. It’s been five full weeks now, not a drop, but daily I’m having to refuse booze, daily I am turning delicious drinks down. I keep deciding weeks in advance of the date when I can start drinking again, when I can do fun things again, when I can leave London again. I haven’t left the city for weeks (a day trip to Whitstable doesn’t count, it fucking felt like London, there was that smug sense of self-importance and arrogance you get in the city that I fucking hate) and I’m rotting, more lonely without the booze because – as I’ve mentioned before – all but one of the friends I’ve retained through my years of drinking are also alcoholics, so none of them really want to hang out with someone who isn’t drinking, which is sad. Come on, guys, surely we can have as much fun as usual in a bar if I’m not pouring gin down my throat, right? The answer seems to be no. So, I’m withdrawing into myself, withdrawing into emailing strangers begging them to be in my web series, meeting up with people i don’t know and then not knowing what to say to them b/c i havent had a conversation w/ anyone for weeks and im not happier no healthier no more together w/o the booze im just more alone and slightly more lonely b/c when im not alone the loneliness is more acute – when ur w/ other ppl pretending 2 b friends b/c ur all drunk its not th same as pretendn 2 b friends wn ur sober im more alone now wn im w/ othrs nt drnkn fxs nthn. NOT DRINKING FIXES NOTHING.


1. It’s where my gf’s mother lives, actually, I should probably make an effort to visit more often as the location seems, quite genuinely, to be the source of most good contemporary English language fiction. 

2 comments on “Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett

  1. Pingback: Attrib. and other stories by Eley Williams – Triumph of the Now

  2. Pingback: Extravagant Stranger: A Memoir by Daniel Roy Connelly – Triumph of the Now

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