By Allyson Vaughan
“In solitude you don’t need to make an impression upon the world,” says the unnamed narrator of Pond. Published originally in Ireland earlier this year, Pond by Claire-Louise Bennet is a surprising, unique collection of stories from a fresh voice that dives into the direct and indirect conscious of the narrator. A woman who we come to learn well, but without truly knowing at all, is the center focus of a collection of short stories. Stories that are nearly not stories at all, but moments locked down for the reader in language as convoluted as the psyche of say a character from a Joseph Conrad novel. The everyday life becomes the melancholy covered ennui people are more often than not overjoyed to read on the page. Overjoyed because Bennet creates a mind so perplexed with itself and the small, infinite amount of joys (for the narrator, being in a bathtub during a thunderstorm). It’s a collection that borders on unreachable, if only because the form and voice of the narrator is so original. The reader will have to get used to the style, but it’s a style that breaks open the mind to unfurl it in the best possible way.
But Bennet’s structure of the novel informs and supports her unique language. Many of the stories are but a few lines. A personal favorite being, “Stir-Fry”:
“I just threw my dinner in the bin. I knew as I was making it I was going to do that, so I put in it all the things I never want to see again.”
That’s the story. It’s a mere few lines, but it’s a few lines that manage to capture an emotion, an action, a motivation. Perhaps it is an experience reserved for the lonely, the melancholic, but who has not stood at their fridge desperate, starving, but finds that nothing in their fridge will do? So they, you or me, begin to try to cook what you can and once it’s done, realize it’s not what you wanted at all. The narrator is overcome by a need for solitude, but also for an intimacy. As she has chosen a Thoreau life to “live deliberately” intimacy with the world around her, with food, rain, the smell of the dirt in her garden that smells, “as if it had never before been opened up.” And that intimacy is created with the reader as well.
What Pond does through mere suggestion alone is enough to make the novel worth a read. The narrator suggests a career as a Professor, an affair, a love, a heartbreak, a full and realized life that she is coming to the reader with an avoidance towards. There’s no conclusive reason other than that she has reached a breaking point, not necessarily a break down, but a breaking down of herself. She appears to want to familiarize herself with her person again, to connect with the world by disconnecting from it. It’s a concept that has resonated with readers, perhaps in part to the echoes of our own desire to be known and unknown. Today’s world is highly connected, and even our dinners are documented. Readers may balk at the idea of the narrator removing herself from this world, and receding back into one where nothing she does is noticed.
These are not overt themes in Bennet’s novel, but it was difficult to read it and not search for reasons the narrator may have left the world for a cottage, alone, when the world is often so in fear of being so. It’s a cerebral text, and it may be difficult for some to find their footing in it. It’s not a plot driven novel, but a thought driven one. I imagine Bennet’s future work will be as provoking and fascinating as this, and it’ll be a thrill to see what other works she’ll produce in the future.