It’s not like I did not understand the fiction novel ‘Everything Under’ by Daisy Johnson, which holds the honor of having been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize; but a lot of it was depressingly slow to be enjoyable.
Set in some gloomy part of England, ‘Everything Under’ is about a lexicographer called Gretel, who looks for her estranged mother and recalls growing up on a houseboat isolated from the rest of the world. A major sub-plot involving a supporting character Marcus/Margot is a re-imagining of a Greek myth, which might be turn out to be intriguing or exciting for some readers, but I found it quite forced. It evoked no emotion in me, unless you want to count ‘sleepy’ as one.
For the first few pages, Gretel’s fraught relationship with her mother made for interesting material, but becomes tiring pretty soon. For a book that seeks to go deeper into the fears and insecurities of its protagonists, it felt like ‘Everything Under’ lacked depth. Marcus is a boy who briefly lived with the duo, yet leaves a lasting impression on the principal protagonists. He used to be Margot, and his flashback story is a lot more compelling until the author entangles it with an unnecessary tragic twist.
Daisy Johnson writes beautifully and her prose make you turn to the next page, but the plot progression is slow and unwieldy. The descriptions meander too much, and very little action takes place between ruminative paragraphs that are just long literary versions of “this place is very scary”. Johnson drowns things in cryptic metaphors and by the end of the story it feels like you know very little about Gretel and her mother Sarah. Gretel is obsessed with her mother, and Sarah is some sort of hippie with commitment issues – this is the only takeaway from the two major characters. Or maybe I am the shallow reader here.
It’s a 2/5 from me.
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