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Jan/Feb 2017 Reviews & Interviews

Pond

Pond
Claire-Louise Bennett.
Picador. 2016. 176 pp.
ISBN 978 1 760550936.

Review by Ann Skea



Because if you want to know I don't recall ever regarding anything I remember from my past as being particularly interesting or poignant, or even especially reliable actually... real events don't make much difference to me.

Buy now from Amazon! This, I think, just about sums up this book. I have to say from the start that critics in the press have given it, almost exclusively, rave reviews, and I found only a few dissenters on Goodreads, but I have read the book twice now and am at a loss to know what so impressed them.

The writer (the protagonist, not the author) has moved to a tiny, poorly equipped cottage in Ireland. She has abandoned a Ph.D thesis and has some random things to say about academics and speech-giving. She drops a few famous names (Sappho, Seneca, Roland Barthes, Nick Cave). And she is fond of long words and strange adjectives: her vegetables are "illustrious," she "deracinates" the weeds in her garden, jam in small cartons is "vapid" and "stupid," and her life develops in "kariotic shifts." One whole chapter, entitled "Morning, 1908," is for no apparent reason written in the antique style of that era. And two pages of another chapter are gibberish. Some might think, since the writer makes much of her Irish setting, that this gibberish is a nod to Molly Bloom's monologue in James Joyce's Ulysses, but it has none of Joyce's brilliance or skill.

To reach for another Irish analogy, the Irish critic Vivian Mercier famously described Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot as a play in which nothing happens twice. Pond is a book in which nothing happens again and again and again. The woman finds herself a small garden and muses on gardening, but nothing happens. She imagines giving a speech at the village Big Day, but nothing happens. She considers throwing a party, "a low-key soiree," and she describes it in detail, but it never happens. She believes, twice, that she is about to be raped and writes of it as if it is taking place, but nothing happens. And she spends a whole chapter inconsequentially pondering the thought that she has to be drunk to form even the briefest relationship with a man.

At times she is funny, and occasionally, as in "The Deepest Sea" chapter, she writes beautifully. But her wit, which some critics have praised, is fleeting, her indecisiveness and her constant digressions fill page after page, and mostly the reader is subjected to the random wanderings of her indecisive mind.

So, if that appeals to you, and if you really want to know, for example, what to do with stale tomato puree (a two paragraph chapter) or that she has just thrown her stir-fry in the bin (a one sentence chapter), then this could be the book for you.

This woman, like Winnie in Beckett's Happy Days, is just filling in time with trivia, and I have enough trivial thoughts of my own without being immersed in those of a stranger. As far as I can tell, there is no deeper meaning to the book.

 

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