Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 5, 2016

Pond, by Claire-Louise Bennett

Oh dear, I am going to be right out of step with the world’s literary elite with this one: I am supposed to be bowled over by the brilliance of Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett, but I was bored brainless by the time I got to the end of the second story chunk of text and pressed on to the obligatory page 50 only because it is polite to an author to give a book a fair go.  Then *smacks forehead* I pressed on #IgnoringMyReliableInstincts because I thought that the literary elite must be right and I must be wrong and that there must surely be something special which I’ve missed.  And then I gave up altogether at page 103 because really, #Life’sTooShort and reading about the quest to replace broken stove-knobs and the importance of sitting on a particular ottoman at a party is IMO just too lame, while reflections on  drinking to get drunk and ennobling it as purposeful are merely briefly puzzling and of no intrinsic interest.

The writing is described in the blurb as feverish and forthright, but since the publishers sent me an uncorrected proof copy (though my Review Policy tells them not to) I can’t quote from the book.  (I can’t show you the cover image either.) Let me try to convey its style by emulating it:

I sit here at my computer all alone in my bedroom except for the dog on the end of the bed for a reason I don’t really understand trying to write a review of a book that bored me.  I don’t know where the Spouse is I should think he is in his office getting on with some work but he might be messing about on Facebook or reading the paper though he might be in the kitchen making the scrambled eggs he undertook to make for breakfast.  Scrambled eggs are very nice for breakfast though it’s important to put them on the right sort of plate.  White plates look nice but blue can look nice too but not green especially not a sage green.

On second thoughts maybe you should take a look at Paul Fulcher’s review at Goodreads.  He must have a different edition because he’s been able to quote direct from the book in his fulsome review.

I was expecting to like this book, or at least be intrigued by it because it’s marketed as innovative fiction that eschews traditional narrative conventions.  As I said when I reviewed Mud Map, Australian Women’s Experimental Writing, I can be out of my depth when reading experimental texts but still enjoy having my mind stretched and my horizons widened.  Mud Map was exhilarating.  But I did not feel like that when reading Pond.  Pond feels like standing next to one of those sad and lonely old folk in the queue at the post office as they ramble on about the minutiae of their day to the counter staff who are desperately trying to find a way to wind up the monologue without hurting the feelings of someone who has no one else to talk to.  It feels like being forced to eavesdrop on one of those inane one-way mobile-phone ‘convos’ that young women have on the train, breathlessly describing their narcissistic lives – breathless not because their lives or thoughts are exciting but so as to prevent anyone interrupting, even to say ‘Stop, please, I implore you’.  Pond actually feels more like a swamp.

Blurbers from Eimear McBride to Jenny Offill and the NYT Book Review to the Paris Review and the New Yorker have raved about this book.  The Guardian says it’s a truly stunning debut, beautifully written and profoundly witty.

If this is the future of writing, the narcissistic meandering of Pond is a vindication of my book hoarding habits.  Intended as insurance against the eBook, my library now looks like sustenance for the bleak years ahead.

The book will be published by Pan MacMillan Australia in late December.

#Update, a few hours later:

pondAs luck would have it, as you can see from my comment below, when I went to the PO box en route to visiting Daddy for the day, lo! there was another copy of Pond, this time not a proof copy (and therefore without the irritating spelling mistakes) and this time with a striking cover.  Its ISBN is 9781760550936 which is the same as the ISBN of the book you can pre-order at Readings if you want to, but the cover of the edition at Readings is entirely different.  Mysteries of publishing…

 

 

 


Responses

  1. Love it – one I will avoid, thanks. And I am one for experimental fiction (of sorts) if it pushes the boundaries and “widens my horizons” then I’ll have a go.

    Don’t worry about being out of step with the literary elite, there’s quite a few examples of them having no idea whatsoever.

  2. If you could take your example on for another couple of pages without drawing breath you’d probably find a publisher.

    • I think Bill’s onto something! 😁

  3. I suspect you’ve saved me some time – I had earmarked this one, partly because of the interesting description and partly because of the sublime cover. I’m in the process of putting together the list of books that appear most often in the various ‘best of 2016’ lists and Pond is there.

  4. Sounds like your review is undoubtedly more productive reading than the book – and more entertaining.

  5. Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  6. Ah, my dear friends, you are all so lovely!
    BTW when I went to the post office en route to visiting Daddy, there waiting for me was a proper copy of the book with, yes, Kate, a lovely cover. So I will add that as an update right now…
    *Update, a minute later*
    Oh, but wait, the cover that they have at the Readings bookstore is not the same. It really is beautiful…
    See https://www.readings.com.au/products/23004076/pond

  7. I do have this book and you haven’t put me off it, but I won’t be putting in the urgent-read pile any time soon. I find that the more I write, the more it influences what I look for or find in a book. As a writer one can learn from what doesn’t completely work too. Of course, everyone has their #Life’sTooShort line. Tony Messenger recently added the much lauded Physics of Sorrow to his best of the year list, and although Tony and i frequently see eye to eye, that is a book I have not yet found the patience for. I’ve tried twice… ah, but difference is what makes life interesting.

    PS. Whether I like the book or not, your review is priceless!

    • Thank you, Joe! You write such wonderful reviews, I am honoured by your kind words.
      *chuckle* I know my reviews don’t always put people off, and I don’t really want to do that anyway. To each his own, and vive la difference is a core value of mine too:)
      And that is the value of belonging to a great network of litbloggers: we learn to recognise and trust the taste of others, and also to know when to take no notice of them. Some of my readers will know from what I’ve written that this book is not for them, and others will smile and ignore my opinion and even actively seek out the book!

  8. I do love a contrary review. And any excuse to justify book hoarding 😊

    • *chuckle* That’s an idea for a blog post: 1001 excuses to justify book-hoarding!

  9. The quote does sound pretty bad, but now I’m intrigued; could it really be that bad?

    • Noo, it’s not a quote, it’s my attempt to replicate the style…

      • Oh! :-)

  10. Like you, I had heard it was wonderful and the only wonderment I found was confusion about why anyone would bother to read it.

    • Hello Jan, thanks for your comment, I am sure we are not alone.

  11. I also love a contrary review, not only for the discussion it generates but for the fact that it stimulates my own critical thinking. I haven’t yet read Pond, and haven’t decided if I’ll give it a try.

    • Perhaps you can borrow a copy? That way, nothing lost if you don’t like it…

  12. I’ve been wanting to read this, due to all the good reviews, so it’s interesting to hear a different opinion on it.

    • *chuckle* It turns out that I am not the only one. Some of the reviews at Goodreads are very funny indeed!

  13. This sounds dreadful based on the banality of the extract alone. Shudder.

  14. […] to my knowledge of the world, of people, and of ideas.  You can see how the vacuous narcissism of Pond fares so very badly by […]

  15. Thanks – I think! – for the link to my review on Goodreads.
    We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one – easily my favourite novel of 2016. But I enjoyed your takedown!

    • Hi Paul, thanks for dropping by, and thanks for writing a beaut review that I could use to balance my own:)

  16. Glad to read your view. I have had this for a while and have dipped in several times, but I found it, dare I say, cutesy and a bit twee.

    • Yup, totally mystified by the adulation….
      Thanks for being a regular visitor here, I really enjoy your comments. Best wishes for the festive season!

      • While I’m feeling free to be disobliging and you won’t agree with this one, I absolutely loathed Wood Green. I thought the style was so bad that I emailed Ivor Indyk about what I thought must be the poor quality of the editing. He told me I was being precious. Ah well, so be it. Yours, Scrooge.

        • LOL join the club, I’ve been ticked off by Ivor too.
          Never mind, he’s a strong personality and that’s what Oz Lit needs, someone who really cares about it and will defend it (not just books published by Giramondo, I hasten to add).
          I know Wood Green isn’t everyone’s kind of book, but I loved the Tassiness of it. (I think I just made that word up, like it?) Sitting here on a day when it’s hot outside, I can still remember the rain dripping from the trees and the frost making walking perilous. And the ending was so clever!


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