**THIS REVIEW FIRST APPEARED IN The Coil**
And quite frankly I would be disgusted to the point of taking immediate vengeance if I was brought to a purportedly magical place one afternoon in late September and thereupon belted down to the pond, all by myself most likely, only to discover the word pond scrawled on a poxy piece of damp plywood right there beside it. (“The Big Day,” p. 36).
The above passage perfectly captures the character of Claire-Louise Bennett’s Pond: on one hand possessing a whimsical quality of breathing a sense of wonder into simple, everyday details, and on the other a snappy, biting thing that has opened its mouth and is now unable to stop. It’s a book that exerts a practical sort of magic, careful to create just the right kind of dazzling effect without delving too far into the realm of the ridiculous.
It’s difficult to say whether this book is a novel or a collection of short stories — either way, it doesn’t particularly matter. The book works as perfectly as a collection of diary-like entries of the unnamed protagonist as it does as an unusual narrative arc that both begins and ends out of nowhere — the thing I appreciated most about this book. Where some authors spend much of their time weighing both themselves and readers down with backstory and minute details about the character they feel will give them dimension, Bennett instead chooses to use surroundings and thoughts as the details that help the reader form an opinion of the character. Take, for instance, a passage from the second ‘chapter’ in the book:
Pears don’t mix well. Pears should always be small and organized nose to tail in a bowl of their very own and perhaps very occasionally introduced to a stem of the freshest red currants, which ought not to be hoisted like a mantle across the freckled belly of the topmost pear, but strewn a little further down so that some of the scarlet berries loll and bask between the slowly shifting gaps. (“Morning, Noon & Night,” p. 4).
The entire book is littered with passages such as this, the writer getting lost in her own stream of consciousness while successfully pulling the reader along for the ride. For it takes great skill to make something like breakfast seem like an entirely new and breathtaking activity, and Bennett does this with almost anything she touches with her words: ponds, ballpoint pens, and stoves, to name just a few. She never failed to say so much while seemingly saying so little; and the readers I think will appreciate this book most are writers themselves, along with readers who perhaps have come to the point where they feel like the same-ol’ words no longer have the same control over them.
As is true with any book, there were favorite moments, as well as some that were not quite as moving. What made Pond different, however, was the fact that even the not quite as quirky or enjoyable sections of the story still stood out through their prose and moved the progress along. There was never the kind of start-stop reading that one might encounter with typical character- or plot-driven novels, and this is because Pond is neither. It is a book that is comfortably moving along at its own pace, leaving behind simple yet elegantly packaged thoughts as a trail for the reader to follow. A personal favorite of mine was a thought I always had but could never quite articulate, and it was much to my delight that I found Bennett worded it so pointedly:
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.(“The Big Day,” p. 41).
There are countless times when the book repeats itself or rephrases the same idea in a barely altered way. But that is actually what I loved so much about it, what won me over and made me certain that this is a book I will be rereading for years to come. Pond is like the awkward teenager at a party who knows where she stands with everyone else and uses that to her advantage, charming with her earnestness and wit. It’s certainly a book one can sit down and get through in one sitting, but I found it worked best to savor it slowly, like having coffee at a new shop, where now that you’ve remembered its name and location you can simply come back to it again and again as many times as you’d like.