It doesn’t take long to realize that Claire-Louise Bennett’s debut work of literary fiction Pond resists narrative structure. It is uncompromising in its immediacy within the physical world while at the same time viewing scenes from that world as through a window in a rainstorm–you can see the shapes of the world, but you cannot examine them closely. “Elemental” is a word that comes to mind. Snatches of life are delivered sometimes with performative pretense, such as when the unnamed narrator writes a witty letter to a defunct kitchen set manufacturer; sometimes candid such as when she encounters a group of cows.
The prose vacillates between the lyrical and the clunky: sometimes a poetess, sometimes a thesaurus-wielding psychopath. (Side note: best Halloween costume idea?) The emphasis on elevating the mundane seems completely unnatural and alienating yet strangely authentic to actual thought processes. It’s frustrating until you realize this is what 24/7 social media access to your own brain would look like. Then again, at times, it also seems like the narrator is casting a spell.
What strikes me most about the novel is the overwhelming, unappreciated loneliness of it all. Interactions between characters are minor. So much so that I almost don’t believe the narrator when she mentions her friends and lovers, but I will never forget the gift between women of a small, decorative knife, slipped between pages in a book about a woman at the end of the world.
Like the vast, seemingly contradictory elements of this tiny book, The New and Noteworthy Book Club will have a lot to discuss tonight at 7pm. And don’t forget next month’s meeting where we will be discussing the breakout book of the fall: Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad on November 17th.