The Magic of Solitude
Pond stands apart from literary convention
Claire-Louise Bennett's auspicious debut, Pond, distinguishes itself from other books published this year in every way—from subject to structure to tone, all the way down to the story's values. The book—in a series of vignettes that can be read as stand-alone stories, or as chapters of a whole—tells the story of a nameless academic who has cloistered herself in a remote Irish fishing village, wholeheartedly embracing what was a long-latent misanthropy. This is a quiet story, whose charm and meaning is derived from the details of small pleasures—Spanish oranges after sex, food placed just so for a dinner party, the workings of the imagination. And from that simple, focused attention, comes cutting observations, written deftly in a style that belongs to Bennett and no other.
Certain passage haven't left me since I read the book months ago. From a chapter titled “Control Knobs” full of interior, psychological action removed from the narrator by the pane of her window, from where she observes the village, she muses on the death of a character in a book she is reading: “I saw her melting quickly like the snow in cartoons, and then I saw her snapped up by the air and propelled as vapour fast through the spaces between the evergreen trees, then I heard her take a breath and hold it until it blasted her into little lines of fractured hoarfrost, then I heard her lie down on the real snow and the snow creaked and the blood that progressed through it shone red all around her settled body, then I saw the crows rise up from out of the highest branches and the deer lifted their chins and their eyes were completely black. I turned on the cold tap and watched the water swish away from my surplus and I opened the window and didn't move. If we have lost the knack of living, I thought, it is a safe bet to presume we have forfeited the magic of dying.” The entirety of Pond can be read something like an extended verse of poetry—all of it with the same rhythm and precision as this passage.
This isn't a book of great action, instead, it is a book that unwinds the mind and presents the hypothesis that maybe what is happening in our interiors—our thoughts, our memories, our suppositions—is just as relevant and important as everything happening outside of us. There isn't much of a conventional plot to speak of, which in some ways speaks to Bennett's talent as a writer—to engage without the crux of action pulling the reader forward. Despite its hushed story arc, each story weaves beautifully with the one preceding it, creating a compelling portrait of a person in all of her inaudible motion.