Everything Under by Daisy Johnson
The eerie atmosphere of this imaginative page-turner by Daisy Johnson seeps into the reader and grips with claws as sharp as the Bonak’s.
Tales from the riverbank are tangled with murky memories in this assured debut novel from Daisy Johnson. A loose retelling of the Oedipus myth, the prophesy drives Margot, now Marcus, away from home to the banks of a river where he meets wild young Gretel and her mother living on a boat. Here, they practise a self-sufficient way of living outside of the realms of emergency services or shop-bought produce, getting sustenance from a butcher’s boat which brings whole carcasses or setting small traps.
The pair have their own way of speaking, conjuring up words to suit their circumstances, and Gretel, when she is older, considers the loneliness inherent in a language for two. What they call The Bonak is a mysterious beast which haunts the banks, making its presence felt in trail marks and missing livestock; the chilly atmosphere drives many fellow boaters far north or south, while Gretel and her mother stay put, welcoming bedraggled and hungry Marcus into the fold. The foreboding wilderness is likely to appeal to fans of Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing.
Gretel in her later years, working as a lexicographer, searches for her estranged mother, piecing together these memories and trekking towards the water to find her in a stage of dementia. The strands of the tale, a misty mixing of fates, fears, and dredging of memory, become entangled; it can take the reader a moment to pin them into place, but always underlying is an intuitive link to home, family, and individuals who are unavoidably pulled together. “The places we are born come back.” The eerie atmosphere of this imaginative page-turner seeps into the reader and grips with claws as sharp as the Bonak’s.