Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett

Feels like: When you forget your phone and have to spend hours in a room without a distraction from your own unraveling thoughts.

Song pairing: “Avant Gardener” by Courtney Barnett.

“Of course it’s expressive–what could be more arousing than inexplicable disdain my God.” 

There’s not much to say plot-wise about Claire-Louise Bennett’s Pond. I mean, there’s plenty to say, but there’s just so little semblance of a chronological or sensical plot that it’s fruitless to even attempt a review that’s not just a stream of consciousness.

An unnamed narrator spends two hundred pages regaling us with the infinitesimal details of her time spent in an Irish countryside cottage she’s renting for an undisclosed amount of time. She’s angry with the pointed, painful edges of Christmas holly, she’s transfixed by the wind of a violent storm while she reclines in a lukewarm bath, she’s describing a book she once read about a woman trapped in a sphere while the rest of the world is frozen in place and she must, alone, continue living with minimal resources and without hope (I made the Bell Jar connection here, but there’s plenty of more Plath evidence lying around). She write odes to chopping herbs, gets her hands dirty in the garden for the sake of the softness of soil, and muses about the unnecessary signage around the local pond, which declares “pond” like a vital warning, though the pond is too shallow to even wade in. Her thoughts are often hard to track as they divert to different constellations at every turn of the page. Her vocabulary is beautiful and disarming and she can describe anxiety with the precision of a scalpel.

Every time I think the author has lost me in another spiraling sort of tempest pout, she reels me back in with a sentence so imbued with emotional conscience I’m struck by the honesty of it and I imagine myself highlighting the sentence over and over again, repeating inside my own head “yes, yes, that’s it exactly, that’s how it feels, that’s how it looks.” The multitude of tiny little minutia that goes unnoticed, the myopic ways we bargain with ourselves, the human quirks we can mask by our incomparable ability to stay distracted.

If I were to read it again, I would try to do it in one sitting, as dipping in and out of the book made the lack of trajectory even more disorienting. But I loved it, I did. It’s so, so weird, and I love that I don’t recall the novel in words, but I see such vivid scenes when I think back on it.

Memorable Quotes (these are long, but too perfect to not include):

🌺  “English, strictly speaking, is not my first language. I haven’t yet discovered what my first language is so for the time being I use English words in order to say things. I expect I will always have to do it that way; regrettably I don’t think my first language can be written down at all. I’m not sure it can be made external you see. I think it has to stay where it is; simmering in the elastic gloom betwixt my flickering organs.” 🌺

🌸 “Then it occurred to me that perhaps I’d been terrified for longer than all day, and I had rather mixed feelings upon realizing that–I wasn’t much keen on the idea that I had been terrified for years, but it seemed possible… I was suspicious really and thought it best to not get too involved with any ideas that came about, after all, being terrified seems quite normal, one learns to live with it–possibly you forget, or it tilts. And then, from time to time, such as today, it reappears, just to remind you, perhaps, what you are living with, even if you almost always forget.” 🌸

🥀 “Didn’t I immediately discover that melancholia brought something out in me that felt more authentic and effortless than anything I’d previously alchemised.”🥀

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