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Feverish and forthright, Pond is an absorbing chronicle of the pitfalls and pleasures of a solitudinous life told by an unnamed woman living on the cusp of a coastal town. Broken bowls, belligerent cows, swanky aubergines, trembling moonrises and horrifying sunsets, the physical world depicted in these stories is unsettling yet intimately familiar and soon takes on a life of its own. Captivated by the stellar charms of seclusion but restless with desire, the woman’s relationship with her surroundings becomes boundless and increasingly bewildering. Claire-Louise Bennett’s startlingly original first collection slips effortlessly between worlds and is by turns darkly funny and deeply moving.

148 pages, Hardcover

First published April 23, 2015

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About the author

Claire-Louise Bennett

17 books533 followers
Claire-Louise Bennett grew up in Wiltshire and studied literature and drama at the University of Roehampton, before moving to Ireland where she worked in and studied theatre for several years. In 2013 she was awarded the inaugural White Review Short Story Prize and went on to complete her debut book, Pond, which was published by The Stinging Fly (Ireland) and Fitzcarraldo Editions (UK) in 2015, and by Riverhead (US) in 2016. Pond was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize in 2016.

Her second novel, Checkout 19, was published in 2021 and was selected as one of the ten best books of 2022 by the New York Times.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,221 reviews
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
792 reviews
July 5, 2017
An odd thing happened as I was reading Claire-Louise Bennett’s book, a paper and ink book, it is relevant to mention, because as I read, it was as if the words were appearing on a screen, each one being completed just slightly in advance of my eager eye (in fact exactly as is happening now while I’m typing), the thoughts rolling out, the punctuation slotting into place just where I expected it, the words and phrases meantime building on each other in a way that seemed completely coherent to me in spite of the beginnings of the sentences having grown quite distant, since, it must be acknowledged, Bennett’s thoughts ramble quite far from their initial trigger though the ramblings are nevertheless contained within a specific area, almost a physical area with real limits, limits you can see as you read, and therefore the main theme of a chapter is never quite lost sight of, she has just managed to lead you around it very skilfully until she allows you to have your ‘aha!’ moment, one which may even reflect exactly what you’ve been thinking as you were lead to it, as in this example:
Anticipation, when it occurs, often makes me animated and expansive, as if I am perhaps reviving and honing my senses in preparation for the awaited object.

Bennett’s chapters are full of trivial details, the kind of details you might think too banal to record or too intimate to be of interest to anyone who isn’t the first-person narrator in her contained space, everyday details about shopping and food preparation and ring marks on windowsills and stains on bed sheets and faulty cooker knobs, but when you’ve become nicely submerged in all that detail, an insight will suddenly float by you, almost unnoticed: There are of course a number of regions in any abode that are foremost yet unreachable. Places, in other words, right under your nose which are routinely inundated with crumbs and smidgens and remains. And those ill-suited specks and veils and hairpins stay still and conspire in a way that is unpleasant to consider, and so one largely attempts to arrange one’s awareness upon the immediate surfaces always and not let it drop into ravines of smeared disarray everywhere between things.

And while within each chapter there is the constant circling of the contained space, the constant attention to details of all sorts, the entire book is also circling a larger ‘something’ which seems to lie too deep to be contemplated. The insights which appear from time to time are like fragments of this larger ‘something’, as if part of it emerges into our sight occasionally but disappears again before we’ve had a chance to get a clear view of it. All we’re left with are the after ripples to prove it was ever there..
Profile Image for Adina .
890 reviews3,543 followers
November 3, 2021
Audiobook narrated by the author.

I chose this book because I read positive reviews by people I trust and because it was published by Fitzcarraldo, a press that I admire greatly. Now, here is my conclusion. Whether you like this book or not depends on one’s ability to stomach the narrator. There isn’t any obvious plot so the emphasis is one the character who tells the reader random stuff about her life. If, like me, you think she is annoying, odd and pretentious and you are waiting impatiently for her to shut up then the chances are you will not like this novel (?). Some parts were better than the others but it did not work for me. The best part was the book’s brevity.
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,194 reviews1,815 followers
July 15, 2023

Non è un romanzo perché è una raccolta di racconti: sono venti, alcuni di mezza pagina, altri di estensione più canonica.
Ma sono racconti così omogenei - vuoi perché tutti senza trama, senza accadimenti particolari, vuoi perché l’ambiente e il personaggio sembrano essere sempre gli stessi - che sembra un romanzo, ha la consistenza di un romanzo.
Che mette in evidenza una scrittura notevole - con un interessante uso della punteggiatura, e della ripetizione - da parte di questa scrittrice inglese trasferita da tempo a vivere a Galway, sulla riva atlantica dell’Irlanda, scrittrice che credo abbia ormai superato la quarantina, età che sembra voler tenere celata per bizzarro vezzo.

E infatti l’impressione è che queste storie – le pagine di questo curioso romanzo fatto di niente, che ruota intorno a oggetti quotidiani, allo stesso posto, e allo stesso personaggio femminile – siano tutte ambientate in un luogo a suo modo remoto, sulla costa, in un cottage campestre, con vicini non fastidiosamente vicini, passeggiate su provinciali poco battute, borgo o cittadina a una modesta distanza, tanto da spingere a spesa settimanale (il sabato), non con maggiore frequenza.
La donna la cui prospettiva è la fonte del racconto vive da sola, usa l’io narrante, ogni tanto la seconda persona: ma non credo si rivolga al lettore o ad altri da se stessa, quel tu è sempre diretto a lei.

Come dicevo, l’impressione è che si parli e racconti e scriva di nulla: una tazza di tè, o di caffè, un vestito, le manopole della cucina elettrica, una macchia d’inchiostro, preferibilmente verde, una ciotola con vegetali o frutta… Cose così. E quindi, anche, tutto sommato, nulla.
Purtroppo a me non è successo che molto di rado – e forse mai – di avvertire il momento in cui il particolare diventa universale, l’io diventa noi, in cui la tazza di tè diventa madeleine o spunto per un volo in altra direzione e altra sfera, o aggancio o trampolino per allargare, estendere, universalizzare, per crescere, salire, trasformarsi: perlopiù la tazza di tè è rimasta quella tazza di tè, e le manopole della cucina elettrica sono rimaste tali, così come la macchia d’inchiostro verde
Un limite che rende le mie quattro stellette una personale valutazione generosa.
Probabile che io sia comunque stato conquistato dalla qualità della scrittura, dalla diffusa ironia “impenetrabile e suadente”, e/o dal “bordo immobile delle cose”.
Ma, non tirerei in ballo Virginia Woolf, che sta diventando un altro tipo di prezzemolo letterario: un po’ come Proust ogni volta che si parla di memoria, o Salinger ogni volta che c’è un qualche adolescente, o Kafka se l’atmosfera è strana e vagamente assurda.

Queste foto, come quella sulla copertina del libro, sono di Margriet Smulders.

PS: La traduzione di Tommaso Pincio sembra all’altezza della scrittura originale. Solo un dettaglio mi ha colpito non in positivo: si ripete più e più volte il termine insalatiera – mai un sinonimo, mai ciotola o scodella o fruttiera o…
Profile Image for Kevin Kelsey.
412 reviews2,221 followers
May 21, 2018
Posted at Heradas

What a fascinating story collection/novel, and honestly I’m not sure which it is. If you read between the lines, you can put together a narrative of sorts. The character seems to be working things out for herself, possibly some past trauma, through these short musing and ramblings about everything and nothing all around her. It’s a unique window into rural life in an Irish village. It works just fine as a story collection as well. I think it’s probably all in how you approach it.

I try to judge books on whether or not they are what they were intended to be, and not so much based on whether I, one opinionated reader, enjoyed them or not. I did enjoy this one, and I believe that it is exactly what it was intended to be. I also think that Claire-Louise Bennett may be a phenomenal writer, and I’ll be paying attention to her writing in the future.

That being said, I had a hard time with the voice of this character. “If you must know” she seemed to find everything “really” “very” something “actually”. Over and over and over. It’s written in the first person, so I’m hoping this is meant to be a tic of the character; a hint at her wandering mind. Perhaps it’s an Irish thing? I haven’t read much Irish literature. I still had a hard time with it, and think the fault entirely my own, but thought it worth mentioning.
Profile Image for CAG_1337.
135 reviews
August 6, 2015
Have you ever been out to dinner with someone who babbles incessantly about nothing in particular, so much so that you feel you mightn't have any means of relief save gnawing your own leg off to escape? Reading this collection recalled that sensation for me.
Profile Image for Dolors.
540 reviews2,281 followers
May 30, 2018
I often compare narrative with a river flowing with its sinuous twists and turns, its affluents and bifurcations, an ongoing path that keeps going beyond the pages of a book.
As the title suggests, Bennett’s collection of short stories, or should I say fragmented sketches of stream of consciousness told in the first person, couldn’t be more confined than a Pond. The unnamed narrator, a woman who lives on her own on the west coast of Ireland, builds a sort of prison around the quotidian aspects of her daily life. A stormy evening, a broken gas kitchenette, stale fruit that needs to be taken to the compost bin, a sporadic encounter with a stranger who passes by her cottage; these are the kind of objects and situations that Bennett chooses as protagonists of her stories under the detailed scrutinity of her rather sharp but intimist prose.
But is that all?
I wouldn’t say so.
For there is a perturbing echo that suggests a hidden meaning underneath the literality of each story, a sort of internal pulse that transforms the common into something sneaky and suspicious. Even threatening.

When I opened the first page of this collection, Thoreau’s “Walden Pond” came to my mind, and I mistakenly thought that Bennett would somehow pay homage to the American classic. I expected meditations on the fertility of the Irish landscape, its rounded hills and windy moors, a contemplative journey to the interior of a woman who has choosen the less trodden path. I couldn’t have been more misguided. Where there is silence, almost prayer in Thoreau’s idealistic chant to solitude, there is humorous soliloquy in Bennet’s; where there is nostalgia for the lost in Thoreau’s utopic dream, there is perplexity and hesitation in Bennett’s inner vision of a world that is closing its doors upon her.
In Bennett’s Pond, nature is outside, we stare at it from the window as something completely alien to us. That indifference killed the undeniable poetic taste of these short movements that would have made the perfect symphony otherwise, at least for this conventional reader.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,798 reviews2,391 followers
January 15, 2018

Some have referred to Pond as a collection of short stories, I would say they’re loosely connected rambling thoughts, musings by the narrator, a woman in Ireland who lives alone in a cottage.

The writing is lovely. If there is any focus at all, it is the daily ordinariness of life, with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour, softened. It’s all said with a nod to the joy of the everyday moments, the reflections on her walks about, the setting, her written ramblings as you follow her on her rambles about.

In trying to relay this, to write down what this is or maybe what this isn’t, it reminds me of what I’d expect to get in the mail from a quirky Aunt who sends an occasional missive to keep you apprised of the ins and outs of her life, her garden, the day to day of life. Nothing, really, is sacred, these thoughts of hers transcribed as though they are simply fleeting thoughts that she must get down on paper before they disappear.

What this book is, simply put, is just plain charming.

I won this as a goodreads give-away! Many thanks also to Riverhead Books and author Claire-Louise Bennett for providing me with this advanced copy.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,115 followers
June 16, 2016
I wish I had kept track of why I decided I had to read this book RIGHT AWAY to the extent that I requested it from interlibrary loan, and it had to come all the way from Notre Dame, one of the few American universities to have it because it isn't actually out in the USA until next month. (Tell me if you told me to read this!)

The right person to read this book would be someone who has the patience to read Eimear McBride, Nicholson Baker (the post-modern fiction version not the cranky non-fiction guy), or Mark Z. Danielewski even when they experiment with style and form, but also someone who has enjoyed some of the memoir-fiction along the lines of Karl Ove Knausgård. This book isn't any of those things but takes some energy and concentration to immerse into it. It is dense and demands attention that would seem deceptive when looking at length.

It is being marketed as short stories, and there is a table of contents with named sections, but it feels more like a string of musings by an unnamed female author. They all take place in her life in an unnamed Irish rural area - most of the time in her house but sometimes elsewhere. They are not stream of consciousness in the way the writers of the early 20th century did it but that's as close as a comparison as I can draw. Deep, intellectual reflections on the most mundane things, from what goes through your mind as you willingly enter into the expected rituals of a date to the need to replace the parts of an oven. It sounds domestic but isn't.

Here's a sample of the writing since I'm struggling to explain it to you:
"Everybody knows deep down that life is as much about the things that do not happen as the things that do and that's not something that ought to be glossed over or denied because without frustration there would hardly be any need to daydream. And daydreams return me to my original sense of things and luxuriate in these fervid primary visions until I am entirely my unalloyed self again. So even though it sometimes feels as if one could just about die from disappointment I must concede that in fact in a rather perverse way it is precisely those things I did not get that are keeping me alive."
It turns out that this is also shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize, a prize I have paid attention to in the past because it is an award given to young, promising writers, and the nominees range from fiction to poetry to hybrid forms. One of the other shortlisted books (actually the winner of the prize) is one I just so happened to finish right before starting this one, although at the time I had no idea that either was nominated for that award - Grief Is the Thing with Feathers. Now I feel I might as well read the other three nominees.
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,272 reviews49 followers
March 6, 2022
Reread March 2022 for a discussion in the 21st Century Literature group. I don't feel the need to update my 2017 review or change the rating

An intriguing and poetic collection, that sits somewhere between short stories and stream of consciousness.

There is a loose narrative thread, in that all of the stories describe the thoughts of a woman living alone in a rented cottage on the west coast of Ireland. The pieces vary in length from a few lines to 20 pages.

Bennett has a talent for making poetic observations about some very quotidian subject matter, and creating a slightly unsettling atmosphere. I am struggling to describe why this works, but I would certainly recommend it. Thanks to Paul Fulcher for recommending it.
Profile Image for Katia N.
586 reviews703 followers
June 1, 2020
A few months ago I was reading about Baruch Spinoza. And, a bit of a warning now, I am going to terribly simplify his thought. But it would help me. He had this beautiful idea that everything out there is just one thing of a divine nature. But how can we think of this thing? The easiest is to imagine the endless, but not uniform fabric. I found the best explanation in this book The Great Philosophers: An Introduction to Western Philosophy:

“Spinoza goes on to say that in total, all-inclusive fabric of the one substance, local and temporary formation crop up like wrinkles in a cloth. They are the real nature of what we ordinary think of as self-subsisting things such as tables, chairs, ourselves, our friends, the Himalayas. In everyday life we take such things to be identifiable items with clear, definite outlines. For Spinoza they are just temporary contours taken on here and there by the fabric of everything there is.”

All we are is just wrinkles in a cloth. So are the objects surrounding us. Spinoza implies that as we have consciousness, all the objects do so as well. When I was reading Pond, I thought a lot about this. And, I think, Claire Bennet sees the world in this way. All the objects in her pieces of the text possess a special meaning and - I dare say - a soul.

It might be she is talking about a pattern of bricks in a wall or about forgotten earring on a sink, a pile of compost in an bowl. And all of this communicates with her. Sometimes she feels an impulse, almost physical force coming from them. Here is the line from the last page ”the apple held her in its fluent green gaze as all thoughts and awarenesses in her began softly trickle out across the garden.” And its not a metaphor in her case.

Through all individual pieces included into this book, Clare tries to show that there is a level of communication, the level of unity higher than a human language. And sometimes she is trying to get to this level. I think that is why she is saying at one point “English is not my first language. I have not yet discovered what my first language is. I don’t  think my first language could be written down and needs to stay immersing in the elastic gloom betwixt my flickering organs.”

In this, she reminds me Clarice Lispector and especially her The Passion According to G.H.. Arguably, Clarice is more successful. She really got to this level when the meaning of the individual words are sometimes obscure while the text emanates this openness and unity with something invisible otherwise. Claire still relies more on the words. But in on story “The gloves off” I think she has fully achieved this effect of total immersion. There, the text is so intense that she forgets about intelligibility of the individual words. And the text reveals the force and frenzy of her connection with the earth both physical and emotional. “I want to see the trees naked and hear the earth gasp and settle into a warm tender mass of radiant darkness. …Knowing exactly everything beneath it and wanting to get back there. You do know how passionate it is down there.”

She is so good with the words. Look how she sees the mud: “yet it must be mentioned as I’d never seen mud quite like it - feudal and rich, almost igneous in fact, as if suddenly it would rupture and divulge a beast of fire or turn in on itself in a molten whirlpool of dark flashing water.”

She manages to combine this cosmic thirst with self-deprecating humour not unlike Lidia Davis and other female American short story writers. In one of the stories by Clarice, her character saw a worm during her walk. That has triggered the whole epiphany of admiration combined with total disgust. Not with Clare. Maybe in an nod to Lispector she is saying: “I like worms and I have no problems picking them up, which is unusual and thus gives me a clear advantage in certain situations because it means I can fling them at people if I feel like it and that never fails to cheer me up.”

Quite a few of her profound observations made me to pause and think. Such as “The desire to come apart irrevocably will always be as strong, if not stronger, then the drive to establish oneself.” or  “Everybody knows deep down that life is as much about the things that do not happen as the things that do and that’s not something that ought to be glossed over or denied because without frustration there would be hardly any need to daydream.” Each of these lines could be developed into a book by itself.

My only minor complaint is that sometimes I felt she exercised in style just for the sake of it. For example, there is a piece about the usefulness of drinking in boosting the attraction of the opposite sex. It is written it seems in an academic language. I did not mind it per se. But the book in its entirety has had so much to offer that it seemed a little excessive. Though when she was exercising in the poetry in prose, those pieces were sublime.

Pond has had a lot of praise when published. And I have to say that it is the best piece of the contemporary work written by an English author I’ve read in a few years.
Profile Image for Lee Klein .
812 reviews877 followers
May 3, 2019
The observations of a privileged academic (yet apparently unemployed) hermit who at most takes trips to the supermarket and has some friends over but mostly PONDers fruit, her oven, pens, all under the shadow of some unstated sorrow maybe -- not fair to consider it along the lines of a conventional novel or story collection since this intends to do nothing, really. It's anti-ecstatic writing. Updike said Nabokov wrote prose the way it should be written -- ecstatically -- but this seems to try to undermine the king phallocrat's proclamation. Which doesn't do enough for me to be on its side -- I found it soporific and resistant to immersive reading (ie, "dull"), which makes sense because it's not going for rising drama, narrative drive, climax, or character development -- it's trying to stand still, to slow readerly acceleration with unusual vocab (mud described as "feudal"), slang, PONDerous sentence construction my eye edited as I read to make swifter -- and doing so as a reader I realized what she was doing as a writer -- but that doesn't mean I necessarily dug it. I found it often precious, pretentious (compare to May Sarton's Journal of a Solitude), at times almost self-celebratory, and overwritten to the point of who cares. It felt overly stylized at times but also oddly often not stylized enough, like it suffered from some weird stylization conflict. I'll try to add examples later. Oh well. Glad I read it, glad I finished it, but not something I can wholeheartedly recommend to many (some will read this slowly and carefully and savor this though). Not something that can really withstand the scrutiny that comes with hype? Not all that misanthropic per the NYT review, FYI. Seems more like something you'd need to discover alone to really champion. It's also possible that I read this while the DNC was in town -- the political climate seems charged with something really at stake whereas this seems like it's coming from some other time and place (quilted, solipsistic).
Profile Image for Jan Priddy.
752 reviews145 followers
April 14, 2023
I tried to like it, but not hard enough. I heard it was wonderful, brilliant, captivating. I found it self-indulgent, mundane, and trivial.

In an interview, Bennett claims she is not interested in creating literature but in writing about life. Yeah? Perhaps this is a pretty rich white girl's idea of wisdom or life or the way things really are. Perhaps she isn't pretty or rich, perhaps I should admire what she does well. It's just that most of us really do sometimes have deeper concerns than exactly how the mirror cracked—we worry and admire and struggle to pay bills and to get along with others and find purpose. Perhaps other readers admire her pointlessness. It is a bit of a relief from real life.

She writes about writing about sex rather than writing about sex. Small blessings. She often repeats a phrase. Repeats a phrase several times. The way people do in their heads repeat phrases like taking a running start at something they need badly to say. The way I do when I am writing in my own most intimate, stream of consciousness voice repeat phrases which I later feel compelled to cut in revision. I like that about her writing, that she is not afraid to allow her voice to meander the way real people think and talk. But then, when she finally gets to her point, I think: So what?

I liked the line about wanting to "unbridle" herself from her rucksack, but I also wondered if a better verb in this context would have been "unharness"? I often felt the need to rewrite her sentences that way. I did not think anyone used the word "deign" except to be pompous and ironic. There are a lot of words like that, words no one actually uses in their head. Maybe she meant to be pompous and ironic? Maybe that is what people like?

Still. Nothing much is happening in this novel-memoir? described as "stories." My favorite story is on page 71:


"I just threw my dinner in the bin. I knew as I was making it I was / going to do that, /
"so I put in all the things I never want to see again."

Three lines—I marked them above the way I would lines of poetry. In the context of this book, "Stir Fry" is brilliant. Poetry! A high point. That is, it is actually funny even though it doesn't go further. It is the shortest story in the book, and while most stories/passages/chapters are several pages long, this one offers the most insight. If Bennett had been able to keep up this level of humor and originality, I'd have stood in line to praise her. Alas.

The worst of it is that I am entirely conscious of Bennett-as-writer at every single instant I am reading, in every paragraph passing for scene, in every blank page I turn hoping for something to enlighten. There is the writer doing her best to impress. And failing, imo. And I do not care for either of them very much—the author-or-character telling the story—even if I do like the idea of her self-awareness while cooking food as if it would become dinner before she can bear to actually toss it. It is not enough. Two lines. Three. Not enough to make the book worthwhile. Skip to page 71.

I would give it 2 stars because I did actually read the damned thing. And page 71. [Oh, and everyone seems to mention that the narrator is unnamed. I do not know why anyone cares.] But then again.

I owned this book, but gave it to a bookshop. Just gave it away.
Profile Image for Jonathan.
920 reviews978 followers
June 23, 2016
Pretty much perfect, and well deserving of the growing hype. Certainly one of the best things I have read this year.

This is the first section of the book (note the Rhys reference in its title):

Voyage in the Dark

First of all, it seemed to us that you were very handsome. And the principal windows of your house were perfectly positioned to display a blazing reflection at sunset. One evening while walking back from the fields this effect was so dramatic we thought your rooms were burning. We liked nothing better than to rake the tinkling gravel on your drive, then to climb an impeccable tree along its passage and wait. We would hear the engine loud in the valley, followed by a thrilling silence within which we would wave our boots and imagine the leather grip of your hands upon the steering wheel, left and right. Oh, but we were only little girls, little girls, there on the cusp of female individuation, not little girls for long. The other two hung back by the brook with cups on sticks while I made my way over the wall into your ornamental garden, laid down upon the unfeasible grass and fell to sleep wrapped about a lilac seashell, which was of course my most cherished possession.

Now. There is enough there to see what is special about her writing - certainly we are in the world of Angela Carter to a certain extent (though not as much as this first piece might lead you to believe) Leonora Carrington (in her less surreal moments) perhaps Lispector too or parts of later Woolf maybe...but somewhere other also.

Her repetition of "little girls", for example, is perfectly done.
The decision to direct it at a "you" is genius, particularly as the first phrases we hear from this voice.

"We would hear the engine loud in the valley, followed by a thrilling silence within which we would wave our boots and imagine the leather grip of your hands upon the steering wheel, left and right. "

Lovely. All those "w"s. And the "i" sounds - engine, thrilling, within, which, imagine, grip, right.

She successfully sustains the perfect poise of her prose throughout, with never a blip or a bump or a grimace-inducing sentence.

It felt like a voice I had not heard before, which is a rare thing.

I would place it next to John the Posthumous - they are very different, of course, but something similar is happening with the use of language.

Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,487 reviews843 followers
May 11, 2023
“On the way back I put the empty bowl on the bench near the pond and sat down beside it. I think I should probably have just kept it in my hands really and held it in my lap because sitting next to the bowl felt really peculiar and it took some effort on my part not to glance down at it and ask it how it was doing.”

Who thinks like that? Considers talking to a bowl? The woman who tells us these stories lives on her own in an old cottage with a thatched roof. She writes about the thatchers, her friends, and her neighbours.

“I sat late one afternoon for a reason that resolutely refuses to come to mind in my neighbours’ house with my coat on all alone in the room between the kitchen and the parlour.”

I loved this. I also became frustrated and annoyed. Published in 2015, this debut collection of stories attracted a lot of attention from authors and critics. Her meandering thoughts and long, sometimes complex, sentences, mean you have to pay attention.

Not always. Here’s a short short story in its entirety.

I just threw my dinner in the bin. I knew as I was making it I was going to do that, so I put in it all the things I never want to see again.”

Then there will be long sentences as she sorts out her thoughts on the page. She realises one morning that the only time she’s interested in the opposite sex is when she’s drunk.

“It was soon obvious that this particular observation wasn’t simply a fleeting instance of light-hearted self-derogation and as it achieved increasing firmness in my mind I felt incredulous and a bit put out that urgent tidings such as these could have remained distant for so long, since, it seemed to me, the instances upon which they derived foundation were surely not restricted to isolated and uncharacteristic phases, but more or less encompassed the entirety of my romantic career.”

You get the idea. You have to be a word-lover, someone who enjoys wordplay and is happy to go with the flow. These are not stories or anecdotes, as such – they are more like notes-to-self. Something like Helen Garner’s diaries and journals, perhaps, except Garner organises her thoughts masterfully. In Bennett’s case, her thoughts wander the way a small child’s do, jumping from subject to topic to person to episode to instance and then winding back to the subject – usually.

My example is nothing to do with her prose, but this is what I mean. I’ll make it about a man, so it doesn’t sound like I’m referring to ‘her’.

He’s just finished breakfast and goes to get dressed, taking his second cup of coffee with him. He sets the cup down on his dresser and looks at the photograph of his brother and sister when they were children. He reminisces (in long sentences) about the day it was taken, the oncoming storm, the games they were playing, the arguing, and the giggling. As he crosses the room, he realises he left yesterday’s socks on the floor. Picking them up, he thinks of an old girlfriend whose pet peeve that was – his leaving socks on the floor. Ah, yes, but when she wasn’t whinging about his socks, they had a great time, and he shares some colourful memories that rekindle his interest in her that remind him of the shirt that she liked – the one she pulled off of him the last time they …. Maybe he’ll wear that one today.

It’s sometimes like listening to the never-ending, breathless recounting by a six-year-old of everything that happened today at school, all pouring out at once so that you will maintain your focus solely on them. But these are told with beautiful writing, humour, and warmth.

When I didn’t feel like maintaining focus, I got frustrated. The trick, I think, is to read these one or two at a time. Dip into the book and enjoy each story. They are well worth it.

Having said all that – and I’m well aware I have a tendency to waffle – I did love her thinking.

“English, strictly speaking, is not my first language by the way. 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.”

Jon McGregor, whose lyrical writing I love, is quoted in ‘The Guardian’ as saying. ‘Bennett’s language is an ornate and long-winded riposte to all those pared-back minimalists, and I love it.’

Thanks to NetGalley and Fitzcarraldo Editions for the copy for review from which I’ve quoted. This was first published in 2015.

P.S. If you have already read the book and would like to read a discussion about it, have a look at Searnold's long review and his conversation with Fionnuala (whose reviews I enjoy, but who never 'rates' books.)
Fionnuala's: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Searnold's: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,299 reviews450 followers
Shelved as 'don-t-want-to-finish'
September 5, 2016
I still have 40 pages to go, but I just can't do it. I'm done. There are some great and funny insights every once in a while, but not enough to keep me reading. No rating. DNF
Profile Image for Paul Fulcher.
Author 2 books1,305 followers
July 6, 2021
Reposting as this - perhaps my favourite novel of 2016 - reminded me in a way of my novel of 2017, Reservoir 13. In particular the author's comment, when talking about Pond, that:

Human beings and the stunts they pull were a minor constituent of my world view. There were hundreds of thousands of phenomena far more fascinating

"I would be disgusted to the point of taking immediate vengeance if I was brought to a purportedly magical place one afternoon in late September and therefore belted down to the pond, all by myself most likely, only to discover the word pond scrawled on a poxy piece of damp plywood right there beside it. Oh I'd be hopping. That sort of moronic busybodying happens with such galling regularity throughout childhood of course and it never ceases to be utterly vexing. One sets off to investigate you see, to develop the facility to really notice things so that, over time, and with enough practice one becomes attuned to the earth's embedded logos and can experience the enriching joy of moving about in deep and direct accordance with things. Yet invariably this vital process is abruptly thwarted by an idiotic overlay of literal designations and inane alerts."

Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett was a book I was very much looking forward to reading, and it certainly didn't disappoint.

It was published originally by the innovative Irish Stinging Fly Press and then in the UK by the wonderful Fitzcarraldo Publications (e.g. publishers of Zone) in one of their beautiful blue jackets.

Eligibility allowing it ought to be a certainty for this year's Goldsmiths Prize, and the Man Booker as well if the judges had the courage. [ADDITION - re the Goldsmiths and per John Self in the Guardian BTL, "I've now been told by the UK publishers of Pond, Fitzcarraldo Editions, that they tried to submit it but were told it was a collection of stories."]

The first question then has to be whether it's a short-story collection or a novel. I'd lean to the latter over the former, but the author herself would reply neither:

"Q: Do you see Pond as a linked collection or a novel? How did the book take shape over time?

A: I didn't want it to be anything it shouldn't be. I didn't want it to be anything really. Keeping it away from falling into a shape that already exists was very interesting, and challenging."


In an extremely revealing Irish Times interview (http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/boo...) she makes her literary agenda clear:

- to write about solitude ("In solitude you don’t need to make an impression on the world, so the world has some opportunity to make an impression on you")

- to avoid the conventional novel tropes of plots ("Solitude, by its nature, doesn’t have much of a plot"), character developments and narrative arcs (which otherwise "seems to override every other imaginative possibility.").

- to write not about people but about natural phenomena ("human beings and the stunts they pull were a minor constituent of my world view")

- to write not to make sense of things but the opposite ("to keep rationality and purpose at bay, to prolong and bask in the rhythmic chaos of existence, and luxuriate in the magnificent mystery of everything")

I've summarised the interview at length because it does more justice to what she has achieved than I am able.

And as the above will suggest this is far from a conventional novel / linked short-story collection. To the extent there is a common thread running through it is the thoughts and observations of the female narrator who lives on her own on the western Irish coast.

We start with Voyage in the Dark, half a page long, and best described as a prose poem.

Then we have the 20 page and more novel/short-story like conventional Morning, Noon and Night, more of a stream of observations and thought association (stream of consciousness isn't the right term, the prose is much more carefully crafted than that implies). It starts "Sometimes a banana with coffee is nice" and goes on to explain why, to describe the narrator's windowsill, to debate the relative merits of pears / apples / bananas in fruit bowls, to discuss the hazards of porridge (see below). She comments that flaked almonds are nice in porridge but "not at all suitable for morose or fainthearted types ... shake out a palmful of flaked almonds and you'll see they closely resemble fingernails that have come away from a hand which has just seen the light of day", leading on via her own dirt encrusted fingernails, to her accidental foray into gardening, and thence her (unsuccessful) love life and her (unsuccessful) academic literary career.

This is the wonderful paragraph on the hazards of eating porridge too late in the morning:

"If a neighbour has been overheard or the towels folded the day's too far in and porridge, at this point, will feel vertical and oppressive, like a gloomy repast from the underworld. As such, in all likelihood, a submerged stump of resentment will begin to perk up right at the first mouthful and will very likely preside dumbly over the entire day. Until, finally, at around four o'clock, it becomes unfairly but inevitably linked to someone close by, to a particular facet of their behaviour in fact, a perpetually irksome facet that can be readily isolated and enlarged and thereupon pinpointed as the prime cause of this most foreboding sense of resentment, which has been on the rise, inexplicably, all day, since that first mouthful of porridge."

There are some sublime one liners. Relaxing drinking tea in a neighbour's house, while her hostess busies herself in the garden:

"I think I felt as if I'd just come home from school on a Thursday. Nobody was taking any notice of me yet there was a comforting sensation that beneficient things were being done for me somewhere. I think as human experiences go, that was one of my favourite ones."

"English is not my first language by the way. 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."

Or discussing Baby Belling mini-ovens

"Three control knobs on a cooker probably doesn't sound like very much to many people because, nowadays, in addition to hardly anyone ever saying nowadays, very few people own what's known as a mini-kitchen, and those people who do are probably the same people who continue to unfurl the phrase nowadays.

You couldn't kill yourself with a Baby Belling oven I shouldn't think because as far as I know all are powered by electricity and no doubt this specification was utterly deliberate because Belling would have been quite aware of the sorts of customers there products would invariably cater to."

Some of the chapters resemble Lydia Davis's micro-fictions. One in it's entirety reads:

"Stir Fry

I just threw my dinner in the bin. I knew as I was making I was going to do that.

so I put in all the things I never want to see again."

At one point the narrator comments that "sometimes, as I read, the pressure exerted by so much emphatic character exposition and plotted human endeavour becomes stifling." In Pond we have the exact opposite. Bennett's extreme focus on minutae is actually wonderfully liberating. Again to return to her interview:

"one’s awareness and sensitivity intensifies to such an extent that ... objects are not simply insensate functional things, but materials, substances, which have an aura, an energy – even, occasionally, a numinosity. Categories lose their hold and the surrounding environment is rewritten and revealed."

Profile Image for Alan.
470 reviews213 followers
August 24, 2023
This book is bad.

Perhaps I should preface my review by saying that Pond may have set me off, but it’s not because of this book exclusively that I am writing what I am writing. It’s just been a couple of years of attempting to find artistic merit in modern “literary fiction”, however you want to define that, and constantly failing to do so. This is, of course, potentially an overgeneralization. There have been plenty of good books from this group, and some have even made my favourites shelf. However, overall and as a sustained tendency, I see the same shit peddled over and over again, and this happens to be the straw that has broken the camel’s back.

Okay, back to it.

This book is bad.

Why? Well, I am not sure, actually. I have nothing but my gut feeling to go on. I can say that I have read a decent number of books. I could do much better in that department, but I’m doing alright. I guess I have a running list of works that I can compare this book to. Maybe I am being harsh and comparing it to classics. But then again, what is a “classic”? Fiction that connected with people and stood the test of time? So shouldn’t Pond be going up against the same books? Even in football, you have a league hierarchy. You start super low and get promoted if you are good, often having to prove yourself over and over again. If you’re shit? You’re actively relegated to lower leagues, often forgotten in the miasma of mediocrity and route one football that surrounds you. Why should literature be any different?

It feels as though this book never even begins to set something out. It doesn’t do anything. There is no story. Look, that’s not an issue and has never been an issue for me. In fact, I am more likely to enjoy a book if there is no Victorian-era story arc stuck to it. But it’s not even really experimental. You don’t have to be Ulysses to be good experimental fiction. But what the fuck is this? It’s not even a good, unpublished personal diary! Why would you journal this way? Your future self will be as confused as I was trying to decipher just what it is you are trying to say. You are fundamentally not communicating anything. I am happy to stand up and point out that the emperor is not, in reality, wearing any clothes.

Is it “well-written”? TECHNICALLY yes. Technically. But… like, why in the world would you describe the sky as “avuncular”? Sit down and take me through the feeling you were trying to evoke by using that specific word. Is it just for vibes? It’s a nice word. It really is. And so is the other one you spammed, “cantilevered”. But really, what are we doing here? There are two good sections in this entirety of a collection of English words:
“Sometimes a banana with coffee is nice. It ought not to be too ripe – in fact there should be a definite remainder of green along the stalk, and if there isn't, forget about it.”


“In circumstances when an impression is extended for the benefit of the person looming nearby, whatever is said is rarely anything at all evocative, and the moment it is said something intrinsic is circumvented and cannot be recaptured later on.”

But then the rest of it is just sentences that made me put down the book multiple times and exclaim out loud to absolutely nobody, hey! What are we DOING here? Here are a couple of those sections:

“The warm sponge was very effective at making the stickiness dissolve however so I was left with just a dark stain which didn’t bother me actually, and as I looked at it it occurred to me that all bird shit is jam really, with a little bit of white mixed in.”


“However, the sensational mode by which the latest idea came to light was in fact not the least bit dazzling or unprompted but was rather the sort of consolidated outcome which is typically produced when a protracted and half-hearted analytical process aggravates the superior auspices of an exasperated subconscious.”

Tell me you’re a first-year philosophy student sitting in the front row and arguing about ontology without telling me you’re a first-year philosophy student sitting in the front row and arguing about ontology. No matter how convoluted you make the combination of your $20 words, if it doesn’t make sense, it’s not fucking good. And the outcome is that as I read each of these sentences, I held on (just barely), but the beginning of the sentence started to catch fire and get deleted from memory, so 2 pages in, I was not even sure why Bennett was using these words to describe an oven or tomato paste.

Rachel Cusk went ahead and did something truly special a little while back. Since then, it seems like every single “cerebral” novel has tried to do the same thing, and they fail so magnificently. A whole section of it seems to be the MFA crew too, just standing around in a circle and wanking each other off about nothing. MFA dogma spouts further MFA dogma, and the vicious cycle continues. I am not sure if Claire-Louise Bennett has an MFA, but this book reads like her final project for that degree. All the MFA crowd who write books, read books, and discuss/review books are supremely smart and insanely lazy. The laziness acts as a filter that makes everyone want to put their intellect to use in the single worst way possible: niche pattern recognition (or pattern recognition in bad faith). This pattern recognition (e.g., what a character is “supposed” to say, what post-modernism is “supposed” to look like [which, by the way, do me a fucking favour, will you?], how you are “supposed” to critique art, etc.) parades as “taste” because lord knows most of the folks don’t actually have anything to put out as an opinion that hasn’t been read in a textbook or written in a journal article by some nobody. It just makes me want to go all Will Hunting, you know?

“[insert name of MFA-project novel here] succeeds in defeating the maudlin structure set up by… yeah yeah yeah. You got that from this morning’s Lit Hub article, right? Yeah, I read that too. Were you gonna plagiarize the whole thing for us or do you have any thoughts of your own on this matter? Or is that your thing, you just “review” books and read some obscure passage and then you pawn it off as your own–your own idea to impress some girl?”

And I’m going to quote this bit directly:

“See the sad thing about a guy like you is in about 50 years you’re gonna start doing some thinking on your own and you’re gonna come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life. One, don't do that. And two, you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a fuckin’ education you coulda got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library.”

I’m bitter. Can you tell? I’m bitter because I’ve realized that I’m a fucking idiot for having spent so much of my hard-earned money over the last 8-10 years buying bullshit books, most of which I haven’t even read. They are all from this addiction of being caught up in the consumer mill of what latest literary “must read” is coming out and what this author or that author is doing to further the literary field. And you know what? I fucking own a hardcover, first edition Checkout 19. I bought that shit. But I’m done, and I am saying it publicly so I can be held accountable. I am done purchasing these new books. Unless I have previously read works by the author and love them (say a Labatut or Porter, for instance), I am done. There will be a backlog, of course. But there will be Before Pond (BP) and After Pond (AP) in my reading history. This was a monumental moment.

I’ll end by talking about Haruki Murakami (whom I am starting to appreciate purely by comparison to the new school). Norwegian Wood. A character called Nagasawa. An asshole, as I read him in 2018. Didn’t he have a rule that he wouldn’t read any books by authors not dead for more than 25 years? I am not going that extreme. I always thought him to be a miserable bore. But I do appreciate this quote:

“It's not that I don't believe in contemporary literature, but I don't want to waste valuable time reading any book that has not had the baptism of time. Life is too short. (...) If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

I’m out.
Profile Image for Jibran.
224 reviews664 followers
February 23, 2022
Going around and around, trying to get somewhere, going nowehere…

I don’t remember where I had read it and who had said it, but they said that the most important rule, perhaps in fact the only rule, of fiction writing is that you make it interesting to the reader. I am afraid to say I kept losing interest in the unnamed narrator’s endless musings about the ordinary and the everyday stuff. Without a solid thread to hold the whole thing together, it ends up sounding like a long ramble which, by the end, neither illuminates nor entertains.

I understand that the enjoyment of this novel depends on whether you warm up to the narrator’s voice and accept the premise of her existence confined to the interiority of her mind which is superimposed by a series of connecting and overlapping impressions divorced from the wider and concrete reality of her time and place. A state of mind where she’s at peace with herself only when she’s by herself and at odds with herself and other people when she has had to venture out into the wild.

I scoured the web for author interviews where she says that she wanted to write a novel about solitude, about the everyday objects and the impression they make on you, and not a conventional novel populated with characters and a storyline. That is an interesting idea, if not a new one; however, the same can’t be said of its execution. Most of my GR friends have rated it highly and I diligently went through their reviews to find that which I’d missed. But I remain unconvinced you see.

Bennett does offer some fine prose especially in the early pages of the novel but as it progresses it takes on the contours of an elevated blogpost in a voice I found self-indulgent and pretty shallow. This is made worse by – and that’s not a criticism I make lightly - her occasional forays into pretentious writing. For example:

This sobering impression did much to humanise the young man of course, and so I continued up the incline with my recently re-harnessed equability quite uncompromised and the uncharted areas of my psyche hermetic and submerged.

I read back to back two books which can be described as “novel about nothing.” This and The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov. The latter is also full of the narrator’s personal reflections, but he executes the form with perfection and holds the whole thing together with a unifying master-image, which our author has failed to do so.

Whatever was the point of all that? Exactly?

February '22
Profile Image for M. Sarki.
Author 18 books213 followers
August 17, 2016

Even before I was finished, actually having more than just a few pages remaining of the second to last piece, and still waiting for me a two page story to read before I could completely say I was finished with this book, I already decided I was going to start right back in and read it all again. It is the rare book that challenges me so. I can only recall Robert Walser’s The Robber having a similar affect on me, but that was because I failed to understand his work enough, even though I loved it and thought it certainly a masterpiece, but felt in order to do it justice I needed to get right back on it while it remained still fresh in my mind. In the case of Pond there resulted in me a different sense of failure because of my own personal failing to lift a single word, or sentence, or paragraph from this writer’s book in which to share with important others in my life, those being, for the most part, the good citizens who actually read what I might say after I may have read a particular book of common interest. I still cannot believe I did not pilfer a word of hers for my own use until almost the very end. It was then that a phrase struck me, that being …no one can know what trip is going on and on in anyone else’s mind… and I abruptly stopped reading and immediately set to recording my own thoughts about my endless uphill struggle in regards to developing any intimacy with my father. Go figure, but that is what happened to me while I was reading. Not exactly a mind-bending phrase or a slice of sentence worthy of remembering, but from the moment it struck me I was impelled to put pen to paper, which is a good thing where I come from.

For whatever reason, that snippet from Pond led me to remember several snowstorms we had while growing up in northern Michigan. And it wasn’t my memory of the snow fights and forts we built among all the frozen white piles dumped in the vast acreage near our home where the city deposited loads of snow removed from the roads in and around our small town. What I did choose to remember instead was the weekly city garbage truck that a man named Tippy drove around with his son Benny riding on the back along with an ex-felon by the name of Eddie Birdy. Eddie was said to have raped a young girl several years prior and we were all instructed to keep a safe distance from him and not stare too closely as he was bound to expose himself at some future date. But then, my remembrance wasn’t even about Tippy Shanebeck, or Benny, or even Eddie Birdy either, but rather my older brother’s and my responsibility to keep the family’s driveway cleared of snow all winter, including the apron running out into the always-drifting road.

Keeping the driveway clear was, for the most part, doable because back then people just had driveways sized enough for one large car like my mother’s ’57 Pontiac which she kept in the garage, or my father’s company car which back then seemed to always be the latest model Chevrolet Impala. I looked back on the endless hard work and amount of time it took my brother and I to clear that apron, which according to our dad had to be shoveled out at an almost forty-five degree angle so our mother and he could both navigate their exits comfortably. The problem became for my brother and I the amount of snow that had fallen, or was yet to fall, or the storm that seemingly would never have any tapering off whatsoever. Our father taught us both to begin our work early and finish late so as to keep up with these great amounts in a more manageable exercise of endurance. There were days we shoveled for an entire day and the next one as well. And as much as we attempted to do a suitable job there was always the typical criticism that we could have applied ourselves better, and we were again ordered outside in our boots and gloves and hats to clean up our mess and widen more the angled apron to his satisfaction. The worst part always came, inevitably, when the city trucks would come through and plow another abundant load across the entire swath we had already made clean and presentable. Sometimes there was more dumped snow than ever before as neighbors often just shoveled their own snow out into the road and the plows deposited theirs into our clean path as well. And that became a metaphor for me about what I chose to remember about my dad and how our intimacy never developed into anything more than keeping our shovels handy in which to clear and pile more heaps of mounting snow.

So, basically, Pond is an amazing book seemingly about nothing but brimming with meaning. Every story feels as if you had been sitting there in the kitchen with Claire-Louise and she was relating perhaps insignificant details about her life to you but making them full and always clever, charming, and extremely interesting. The more I learned of her travails and proclivities the greater involved I became and thus grew more than enamored with her as a person of interest to me. The rhythm and lengths of her chapters (or stories, if you insist) flow well and ease into each other, offering up a gait easy and comfortable enough to keep pace with. I also particularly enjoyed her use of a sophisticated vocabulary. Never did I deem her choice of words as pretentious or out of place with what she was accounting. But it is obvious the woman is gifted and smart and knows what she is talking about. Claire-Louise Bennett has a voice that will be heard. She is much too talented not to be heard. Pond is so far my greatest find for 2016, and it feels quite wonderful to have met her so intimately.
Profile Image for Lisa.
96 reviews161 followers
June 10, 2017
This is not a book to read in line at the bank, amidst the trilling thumps of construction, beside the jarring voice of a teenage conversation.

Enter this book like you would enter a church. You don't need to believe in anything but sanctity itself. Give these words the silent envelope they are due.

How would I adjust to simply living for a time? I like to think I would find pleasure, or solace, in simple domesticities like the narrator of Pond. But the fact of the matter is, I am remarkably good at doing nothing, and before long inertia would settle in my bones and redefine the shape of my life. I see it on rare weekends where time stretches out before me with no distractions afoot. I revel in the nothingness. I bask in silence and it is a burden merely to walk to the grocery store, lest I break the spell. It is no accident, I think, that people with little to do languish in the most forlorn, uncared-for environments. But I digress.

These simple reflections resonate with my quiet core. There is nothing new, nothing fancy, and that nothing is the beauty of the thing.

One thing is amiss. For all the quiet, the solitude, the attention to mundane details, the hanging linen, telephone calls, gazing at the moon... she never once reads a book. Unlikely silence of another sort that I cannot tolerate.

I finished this up sitting next to the pond in Lafontaine Park. Named for a man, but there was indeed the cool rustling sound of a fountain to soothe my nerves. Claire-Louise Bennett may have written a quaint chapter about the man who approached to sell his poetry, but alas, I was not in the mood for talking. I was reading.
Profile Image for Valarie Smith.
149 reviews1 follower
June 5, 2016
Like being in a beautiful place with a neurotic who won't stop talking. This book has gotten nearly universally wonderful reviews by people I greatly admire, so I guess it's just me, but I couldn't wait for it to be over.
Profile Image for Ken.
Author 3 books969 followers
December 4, 2019
First-person point of view can be charming, indeed. We read such books and feel as though the narrator has chosen us specifically to confide in. We are privy to the narrator's secrets. We are honored to keep them secret in the name of empathy.

First-person point of view can be a prison, too. Imagine being trapped in the mind of someone who drives you crazy, whose observations are of little interest to you, whose voice is self-consciously quirky because the author (strings visible) is pulling said character's arms and legs and making said character speak and behave in odd-isn't-the-word-for-it ways, passing it off as "art."

After all, can't "art" take the form of a first-person narrator we'd consider eccentric? How about crazy? Depressed, then? But it has to work. Holden Caulfield works as a narrator. This bird doesn't. But she has a mighty fine vocabulary. And she's speaks in a stilted fashion. And her Empress has no clothes.

Meaning: Sometimes you're just grateful to come out the other end breathing air. The fresh air of another book. Quickly.

If you loved this book, consider it over my head and accept my apologies.
June 3, 2016
*That above is not the cover therefore the edition I read. The physical presence of the book as described below was a part of the overall experience. I know it is listed and shown under Bennett's, Pond. Now I just have to figure out how to put this review under that edition with that cover without injuring myself.

This book will most likely be the best book which doesn’t appear to be a best book I will read this year. Focusing on the small acts, the surface contributions of a life, it is much like a conversation had with a next door neighbor over the backyard fence. It is only part way into the talk that it is realized the neighbor is speaking a different language. Not a foreign tongue but that the simple passing on of events and thoughts are robed in a pristine prose and serve as metaphors for another existence. Her poignancy, wit, candor, and intelligence sets our mind open. There is permission offered to lay down the gauntlets of self protection, to join her talking over the fence if not to tear it down.

Tear it down is what she wants. She would like to tear down all fences, leave the field open to roam. The greatest wish is to be free of all constraints thus free to experience herself as she lives within the small interior of her cottage, eschewing facts for impressions. Her self reflection is dazzling to the ardent fan of the inner life. The linked reflections assist her in situating herself within herself. In so doing she has come to see the outer world - life - as something needlessly extravagant spewing meaningless conventions and a frizzled shallow existence.

My neighbor, as I listen to her has become a hero of a life of inner meaning. I applaud her as she busies herself with the claw of an old hammer pulling out rusted nails from fence posts, hoisting out slats and piling them in a neat order. Except as I watch, she refusing all help, some slight irritation an itch perhaps, bothers me. Is this project of hers, this quest insinuating herself as a way of life, a pursuit of that which is true or is it a sophisticated cover shielding her from what is unwanted inside?

Over time, she tells me, she has perfected the minimal phrases to lightly bounce back or off of her neighbors to maintain some contact with the outer world. This is so in order to not arouse an excessive amount of suspicion that will result in her neighbors interference, their need to find out what is wrong, if she is okay, what might be the cause she is not participating, and thus invade her small cottage and the fevered postings of reflections and impressions maintaining a positive equilibrium and discovery of meanings.

A problem I’m hearing as she decides what to do with the fence posts cemented into the holes proffered for each to settle plum according to the reading of a level, is her other need. This is her need, though she herself may not realize it, to be noticed by others. More so, to see herself through the eyes of others. This provides an anchor, possibly hidden beneath her cottage. There is that tie, that link, quasi desperate though hidden, as for a child to have other eyes see her frequently enough to assure her of her existence. Otherwise…?

Her tale, brimming with significance, is told through mundane everyday tasks converted to the sublime with the perfectly measured and attuned sentences, words awaiting their place to fit into this work, pitting the rawness of battle between a life of staid solitude or a life led in the palpability of the hummed buzz outside the window of her cottage.

What provides the tension keeping me turning pages is this battle, as well as her inner battle, but most of all whether the story will come to a conclusion, an end. I performed chants and quasi religous offerings to her not to provide an ending, to allow it to continue within the magnificent textured blueness of its cover, neither a hardcover or a paperback, and *adorned with the richness of a selected royal blue book mark. Pond and the authors name scribed in white. Both book flaps are continous with the covers. No writing, no photographs, interrupting the deepness of blue. A treasure.
Profile Image for JimZ.
1,062 reviews495 followers
August 14, 2021
I was ready to bail after 50 pages because I was bored and clearly was not getting her writing. So then I googled looking for reviews and was surprised that someone at the Paris Review reviewed the book and somebody at The New Yorker reviewed the book! 😮 So I thought I must be missing something or maybe I did not give the collection a chance so I read on. This was not one of those instance in which I can say “And I am so glad I did!” It really didn’t get much better (at least to me) although there were occasional flashes of writing that held my attention. But mostly I was bored and just wanted it to be over with. 😕

In fact I am breaking a rule and am writing this review with one story still to go…it is somewhat long and I fear I would fall asleep if I had finished that one off (and mind you I had just taken a nap). 😐

Well I did like this passage from the story, ‘The Deepest Sea’.
• Everybody knows deep down that life is as much about the things that do not happen as the things that do and that’s not something that ought to be glossed over or denied because without frustration there would hardly be any need to daydream.

And this was sort of funny from ‘Over and Done With’. Her father called her because he had heard on the radio there was a storm in the area of the country she was living at and he wanted to see if she was OK…:
• I said I was very snug indeed, which was no exaggeration, and I added that since my house is tucked in a hollow it is reasonably sheltered and altogether quite safe. Then I said sometimes I worried that a tree might fall upon it because I didn’t want to reassure my father too much and thereby dispense with his concern entirely.

There were 20 stories in this collection, and some were a sentence long (does that make a story?) or a page long, both others were normal-sized. She used lots and lots of big words, and lots of short-words that I did not understand but I was too-lazy to look up. 😐

Reviews (once again, don’t mind me, they all loved it!):
• Dwight Garner who reviews this calls it a novel??? https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/15/bo...
Profile Image for David J.
217 reviews209 followers
March 15, 2017
Oh, Pond...

I was initially struck, yes, by the beautiful cover, but then I read the given praise and decided to get it. I had high hopes for Claire-Louise Bennett's debut publication, but, unfortunately, it largely didn't work for me.

There really isn't much of a plot; rather, it's just selections of musings from a generally-lonely, young academic renting a cottage in the Irish countryside. Bennett's writing is gloriously overdone. She circles back and forth, around and around, on nothing in particular and then goes off on long tangents to finally find herself rushing back to her original thought, which ultimately gets lost in all of her chaos. I found it very difficult to actually focus on the central character--or even care about her, really--because she's simply all over the place. I had a (small) inkling that, in her loneliness, she would attempt to put her ducks in a row; instead, she just flings all of her ducks out the window and through the front door and decides to contemplate on a missing knob on her vintage toaster oven.

The New York Times writes that Bennett's work is "rarely murky and never pretentious." I respectfully disagree. Bennett has a voice--it's clearly there--but I think it needs some polish and definition. Most of the writing seems bloated. Minds wander, but not this much. I was easily lost, and there are only so many tangents one can elaborate on without losing your audience. Everything also seemed very particularly placed, too, like you could see Bennett's thought process, which throws the flow off entirely. I would also prefer to not need a dictionary every ten words to figure out what the author is saying.

There was one short selection I enjoyed immensely. It's called "Stir-Fry" and it's the only reason there are two stars here. It's exact and to the point--perhaps only 30 words--and shows such potential. The rest of these musings, however, are generally unsuccessful.
Profile Image for Vesna.
218 reviews128 followers
August 15, 2022
Unfortunately, I couldn't entirely connect to Bennett's writing. I love her originality in putting into focus the ordinary daily stuff of life viewed through the plotless stream of thoughts. And I enjoyed her "stories" about fruit or fountain pens ink, and similar. Beautifully immersive, spontaneously flowing, often humorous. It engaged me as a reader that I even wrote on the margins a small note of disagreement with "Pears don't mix well" [when placed with other fruit in a bowl]. They do! With plums (of the kind called here in the states "prune" or "Italian" plums. My favorite autumn fruit bowl combination next to a bowl with various heritage apples and a smaller one with black walnuts. But now I'm getting digressive... :-)) I also very much enjoyed the directness in her reflections on some everyday situations or people with a mild resonance of Bernardhian recluse.

I would have been entirely submerged in the narrator's inner world in her solitude had there not been stylistic roadblocks. The spontaneity of free associations and Bennett's unique variant of the stream of consciousness was often alternated with contrived passages, loaded with jargon as if written for a professional conference (more than once George Orwell's "rules" for writing came to my mind), like this one:
A bespoke man-size filter for example, or a succession of perfectly pitched blind spots, or a persistent and delightful ringing in the ears, or a languorous crescendo of beatific bemusement. I don’t know—whichever elusive device it is that surely one must have in spades so that critical indifference is converted, rather niftily, into mindless fascination, and one’s usual agitation has the opportunity to metamorphose into a gloriously inappropriate and stupefying crush.
Or this one:
The weather has not been particularly congenial this summer and such is my resignation that lately I have taken to commenting upon its brooding contrariety in routine phrases which demonstrate exasperation and contempt while leaving the utter indifference I’ve actually begun to feel towards it undetected and intact.
Whenever facing such passages, I wonder what propelled this undoubtedly talented writer into such an awkwardly constructed showcase of heavily loaded words and phrases, crudely violating more than one of Orwell's famous rules ("Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent", "Never use a long word where a short one will do" or "If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out"). The parts with this kind of jargon writing felt cumbersome, never really resonating with me and preventing me to entirely connect to this book as a whole and the narrator.

But then there were many other enjoyable parts, just compare the previous passages with this beautiful imagery and thought:
I’d listen to the woodpigeon’s wings whack through the middle branches of an ivy-clad beech tree and the starlings on the wires overhead, and the seagulls and swifts much higher still. And each sound was a rung that took me further upwards, and in this way it was possible for me to get up really high, to climb up past the clouds, towards a bird-like exuberance, where there is nothing at all but continuous light and acres of blue.
Despite my reservations, the author surely intrigued me enough, especially with her original approach to the novel/story writing that eschews the conventional narrative, that I might decide to read her more recent Checkout 19 as well.
Profile Image for jo.
613 reviews497 followers
February 7, 2017
this is a mesmerizing debut. it's a book filled with poetic yet somehow edgy language, and full of words -- words you don't encounter often, very specific words, and, at some point, unspooled words, as if the narrator were so taken by her words that she starts to use them randomly, or maybe following some inner association, or possibly drawn by the compelling combination of the sounds they make. what i mean to say is that, toward the end, some of the writing becomes decisively surrealistic, and some other of the writing becomes a little surreal. but maybe the entire thing is a tad surreal, because -- well, let me start from another angle.

i am finding myself more and more attracted by writing by people of color or by non-american non-english writers, because it seems to me that a lot of the english-language fiction written in the US/UK by white folks has kind of run out of things to say. this is a terribly broad brush with which to paint the thousands of novels or collections of short stories that are published every year, so i'm putting it forward cautiously. but bear with me.

when i started this collection of short stories (if you can call them that; they are not exactly "stories" because nothing happens) i was at first greatly taken by the language and the composition, but after a short while i felt, ugh, another white author who navel gazes because she has nothing important to say.

and then, THEN it occurred to me that the obvious, in-your-face navel-gazing is EXACTLY what bennett means to do, and the sense of spoiled ennui (the main narrator seems to be living somewhere in the country in ireland, even though she's from england; she also seems not to have to work), or spoiled delight in bathing, building fires, walking in the mud, shopping, making tea, spreading jam on toast, etc., exemplify PRECISELY this perhaps-crisis of white middle-class writing in the US/UK. they emphasize it to such extent the the narrator's/writer's life in her cottage in the country goes from delightful to suffocating to scary (the narrator, in one of the stories, is positively terrified), and her words unravel, get jumbled up, lose meaning.

so that the whole of the collection can be seen as some sort of post-modern rendition of what virginia woolf (you will want to connect these two women too!) does in The Waves, a turning upside down of the multivocal inner thinking/feeling of a group of characters that translates into the univocal indulgent self-accounting of a woman staying alone in a cottage being (maybe) a writer and thus building a card castle of words that, eventually, run away from her.

this is not to say that this book is not beautiful. it is beautiful. it's lovely and evocative and a pleasure to read.

i think that one way in which the book can be read is as the work of a writer writing a book about the tiny nuances of the mind and the feelings that accrue in the passing of time, dwelling very lovingly on all that, aware she has not much more to say -- she hasn't been to war, she hasn't suffered persecution, she lives in a a-historical time -- and then slowly getting to a point in which this intimate describing devolves into confusion and fear.

there are also parts about men but i didn't like those so much so i'm not going to talk about them. they are not many.

i will read everything claire-louise bennett writes.

many thanks to penguin for the ARC of this book.
Profile Image for Nicole.
357 reviews158 followers
February 26, 2017
This book is like that friend of a friend who takes a hot glue gun to a series of purses or shoes, adding glitter and feathers and craft store beads, pretending that she's an artist or a designer or some kind of creative spirit, while her friends and acquaintances buy the accessories out of guilt and quietly let it be thought that this desperate flailing is somehow the same as a proper career.

Everyone says how original this book is, how new the type of writing, but I see it as the natural, indeed the inevitable, outgrowth of a society obsessed with the shallow minutiae of its own belly button. Public diary entries, selfies, nothing done or thought or consumed but that it must be shared, retweeted, forwarded; never an unpublished thought; an obsession with the self in all its tiniest, narcissistic details; a complete breakdown of the frontier between memoir and novel and therapy session, every essay beginning with a gesture toward the self, the self, the precious delightful self. Of course we have this kind of writing now, what else would anyone have expected? But must we also bow down before it, welcoming and celebrating our increasing lack of anchor to anything of substance?

And this woman, her voice -- so shallow, so self-congratulatory for being self-aware, for finding pseudo-profundity after pseudo-profundity, to the point where you just want to shake her and scream, woman, find something to DO would you, you are wallowing in the shallows of the self, you are an obscene waste, you are a king feasting on peacock while his peasants starve. I am totally unsurprised to see a background in academia -- this kind of broad truthiness masquerading as special insight is the bread and butter of the theory-head crowd; all it's missing is obfuscating prose to go the full distance. Near the end, when a friend sits her down to tea and a frank chat about everything that is wrong with her, I was with the friend.

Even the few moments of pleasure seemed more like something fit for a cute blog post than for serious art. It's true, we label our ponds ponds in an excess of worry and prophylaxis, concerned about the pitfalls lying in wait for our children in a world safe as safe can be, in the shallows. But this is hardly a great insight. I am hard pressed to see how this book should be sitting on the fine and lofty literature shelf rather than next to the mass market bullshit in the things-white-people-like truism mode. Perhaps one of the lovers she alludes to but is profoundly uninterested in (them not being the inside of her own head and therefore unworthy of consideration in the way that, say, a lost canister of green ink is) worked in publishing and was able to do her a solid.

How anyone can read a "story" like stir-fry and think that there is any excuse for it is beyond me. Turn your knickers right side out and get a real job.
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,822 reviews1,386 followers
July 6, 2021
Ambitious and unique debut novel – somewhere between a novel and a short story collection, seemingly with a common female narrator, currently living alone in a cottage in Ireland, and spending much time alone and in her thoughts although sometimes interacting with friends, men and her neighbours. The chapters vary from lengthy stream of consciousness musings to (much less successfully) short micro-chapters including a bizarre paean to tomato puree and a micro-fiction of a stir-fry.

Overall, the book is best described in the author’s own thoughts, but seems an attempt to: write about solitude; capture something of the imaginative and deliberately aimless worldview of a child before the world starts making demands for you to make something of yourself and to shape your character and actions towards a goal in life; to avoid the need for character development and narrative arcs; to move away from the “anthropological parochialism” of the novel to one where everyday objects and the world and the impression they make on you (rather than your need to make an impression on them) are key; to write less to make sense of things (to categorise and rationalise them) but to delight in mystery and uncertainty.

Overall a very memorable if not unflawed debut.
Profile Image for Matthew Ted.
766 reviews659 followers
August 24, 2023
133rd book of 2022.

Handily finished this exactly as my train arrived into Amsterdam Centraal Station. Even though this book came out in 2015, I got this as an ARC off Fitzcarraldo ahead of their new paperback release in the American(?) style (long and narrow (which I'm addicted to)). It's my first Bennett though Checkout 19 has been wavering in my periphals for some time. It's a hard one to rate: plotless, oftentimes boring, but oddly lonely. The honing in on banalities, kitchen stoves, flowers, etc., reminded me of The Mezzanine but rather than Baker's humour, Bennett's prose pushed towards claustrophobia. A book that couldn't really be any longer than it is.
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