Rebecca's Reviews > Everything Under

Everything Under by Daisy Johnson
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really liked it
bookshelves: booker-shortlisted, newbury-library, second-person, dementia, languages, best-of-2018, no-speech-marks

As mesmerizing as it is unsettling. There were many moments when I had no idea what was going on, but I kept reading in the confidence that Daisy Johnson would pull it all together, which she does, beautifully. This is a bit like Kafka on the Shore, transplanted to an English riverside and given a healthier gender balance. There’s doubling, an Oedipal prophecy, and two Tiresias-like figures: a blind man and a transgender clairvoyant.

Gretel Whiting, a lexicographer, is searching for her estranged mother, Sarah, and for the secret language they shared during her childhood on a riverboat, when “the Bonak” represented everything they feared. The great irony is that her mother is slipping into dementia and losing her words entirely. Meanwhile, Gretel and Sarah are both looking for Marcus, who stayed on their boat for a month many years back. These quests flow together, as do memory, thought (often in second person address) and speech (not delineated with any quotation marks), in a lustrous mix of past and present.

This would have been a worthy Booker winner, and I hope to see it on other prize shortlists such as next year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Some favorite lines:

“I’ve been thinking about the trace of our memories, whether the trace stays the same or changes as we rewrite them over time.”

“I’d always understood that the past did not die just because we wanted it to. The past signed to us: clicks and cracks in the night, misspelled words, the jargon of adverts, the bodies that attracted us or did not, the sounds that reminded us of this or that. The past was not a thread trailing behind us but an anchor.”

“Again and again I go back to the idea that our thoughts and actions are determined by the language that lives in our minds. That perhaps nothing could have happened except that which did.”
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Reading Progress

July 26, 2018 – Shelved
July 26, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
October 23, 2018 – Started Reading
October 23, 2018 – Shelved as: booker-shortlisted
October 23, 2018 – Shelved as: newbury-library
October 24, 2018 – Shelved as: second-person
November 1, 2018 – Shelved as: dementia
November 1, 2018 – Shelved as: languages
November 1, 2018 – Finished Reading
November 2, 2018 – Shelved as: best-of-2018
March 27, 2019 – Shelved as: no-speech-marks

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by Cheri (new)

Cheri Lovely review, Rebecca! I might have to add this one...


Rebecca Cheri wrote: "Lovely review, Rebecca! I might have to add this one..."

I definitely recommend it. It's a pretty unusual book, but one that will stick with me.


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