Gretel hasn’t seen her mother in sixteen years. Growing up on a boat on the Oxfordshire canals, Gretel and her mother created a world of their own, with words of their own, and a creature they called the Bonak that haunts the dark currents of the river. Now Gretel is grown, a lexicographer who tries to make sense of the words of the real world whilst not being able to make sense of her own past. Too many questions are left unanswered, and she hunts hospitals and morgues searching for her mother and for answers that only her mother can give her. When the two are reunited, Gretel begins to trawl through fragmented memories and asks, what happened to Marcus? What happened to the boy that lived with us that winter?
“I think often of all the dead who live in the water.”
The first paragraph of this novel includes the sentence “For you memory is not a line but a series of baffling circles, drawing in and then receding.” That’s exactly what reading this book felt like. The narrative is very fragmented, non-linear, and frankly a little difficult to follow at first. I began this book by stealing a short chapter here and there which made it difficult to get into initially. When I approached it with a little more time on my hands I found that it completely sucked me under. The book is captivating, almost nightmarish in quality. There’s a sense of not really knowing what is real and what is not that adds to the discomfort of the story. Gretel moves through the narrative with a sense of detachment yet urgency, spurred on by her not knowing what happened that winter on the river. There’s a lack of character building in the novel that led to some feeling of indifference towards Gretel but she’s an enjoyable narrator nevertheless. This is an incredibly surreal and iniquitous debut that has left me eager to read more of Daisy Johnson’s work.
Everything Under is a retelling of a well-known Greek myth, but to know which one spoils the novel. I made the mistake of reading too much about this book before beginning it, and thus knew the direction that the characters would take. This took a lot of the suspense out of the story but the writing is so brilliant that it was still a fantastic read despite this. I would recommend approaching it without knowing which myth you’re delving into – it would make for a much more suspenseful read if so.
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
This book was kindly recommended to me by the fantastic staff at Queens Park Books.
Read for the Magical Readathon, Ancient Runes exam.