Wednesday, June 22, 2016


Title:  Pond
Author:  Claire-Louise Bennett
Publication Information:  Riverhead Books. 2016. 208 pages.
ISBN:  0399575898 / 978-0399575891

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "First of all, it seems to us that you were very handsome."

Favorite Quote:  "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 external you see."

A reclusive woman, whose name we don't know and whose age we don't know, is the main character and the narrator. She lives in a cottage by a pond with no name somewhere in Ireland. These are her musings about her life, a few other unnamed characters, and the things that surround her. "The late-scale changes in fact were of no interest to me at all; it was the small things that remained constant which sort of attracted me." That statement about describes the book. It focuses on the small details of life from the pears in a bowl to the rocks by the cottage to a discussion of broken knobs on a stove.

This book focuses narrowly on the internal dialogue of one main character and narrator. This book structure can make for a wonderful character study as in An Unnecessary Woman. However, for that to be successful, by the end, I need to feel like I know the person; the character must become real. Unfortunately, in this book, that does not happen for me. I know about this unnamed character's world but not much about her other than her frequent references to being drunk. I don't get a picture of her from the details of her world

This book is episodic in nature. It is a slim volume with short chapters ranging from a couple of sentences to a few pages. It is, in some places, billed as a collection of short stories, all related through the one narrator. This technique can be very successful as in The House on Mango Street if the vignettes join together like the pieces of a puzzle to create a bigger picture. Unfortunately, in this book, that does not happen for me. By the end, I am still not entirely sure who this woman is or what the book is exactly about.

This book is also very much about its language. As a lover of books and languages, I love words and being introduced to new words. This book is certainly full of them. Adventitious - not native. Deracinate - to tear something out by the roots. Fervid - intensely enthusiastic.  Panoply - an impressive collection. Solanums - a plant related to the nightshade family. The words are fascinating, but assembling an entire book of them becomes too much. It leaves the impression of a book that is trying to be clever and consciously and deliberately using "big" words. Complex ideas can often be expressed in the simplest of words to create an impact. The more complex the word, the more the focus shifts from the idea to the word itself. In this story, often a word or phrase jumps out, and the idea remains lost.

The fact of a nameless, description-less main character implies that there is deeper meaning to be found in the book. The focus on the mundane, minute details implies that a symbolic meaning exists beneath the surface. The use of complex words implies that there are things to be learned here. Unfortunately for me, that meaning remains unfound even by the end of the book.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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