Review of ‘Everything Under’ by Daisy Johnson

Shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, this unsettling novel is about words, wildness and water. The author pieces together the stories of Gretel (a lexicographer), Sarah (her wandering mother) and Marcus (I won’t say more about him in case I spoil the plot for you). There’s also a monster in the river, the dreaded Bonak.

I’m not sure how I feel about this novel. I can see why some reviewers loved it. For a start, it’s very well-written, with not a word out of place. The language is carefully chosen, the meanings explored, reflecting Gretel’s obsession with words. The descriptions feel fresh and original, giving a sense of place and atmosphere. I think the narrative style of this novel would be my definition of ‘literary fiction’. It requires the reader to put some effort into understanding the story and the meanings below the surface. The content is tragic – some reviews have mentioned the similarity to Ancient Greek tragedies (I can’t comment on this, not being educated in this topic) – and if you prefer stories to be resolved in this way, you’ll probably be satisfied with the ending.

I found the reading to be difficult at times, because the dialogue doesn’t have speech marks and is often integrated into larger paragraphs. There isn’t much variety in how the text looks on the page. Maybe this doesn’t bother anyone except for me?

Daisy Johnson is a talented writer but on reflection I admired this novel rather than enjoyed it.

17 thoughts on “Review of ‘Everything Under’ by Daisy Johnson”

  1. You first had me at Lexicographer, I like someone who’s interested in words but I’m not sure the format would work for me and a monster in the river is something else that I’m not too keen on. Fab review though!

    1. Thank you Inge! Isn’t lexicographer a great word? I think this book would suit someone who likes a slow developing story which is pieced together, definitely not everyone’s cup of tea 🙂

  2. Pity that you didn’t enjoy this- but it makes sense- especially when it comes to things like the way speech didn’t have dialogue marks (I find things like that can be distracting and annoying). Great review though!

    1. Many thanks – I know a lot of people loved this book (obviously, as it had a chance of winning the Man Booker!) but the style didn’t engage me.

  3. Can you believe it, I just left a comment addressed to YOU under someone else’s post! I somehow clicked on a suggested link in the app instead of clicking the comment square. I feel like an old granny who’s using a phone for the first time. Anyway, I wanted to say I loved the final phrase in your review. What a wonderful way to put it!

    I think many books struggle to keep up with the hype they created. I read this book before it was very popular, and I enjoyed everything about it, but I can imagine how you could be disappointed after reading all the praise about it.

  4. It is interesting how there are some books that we appreciate, rather than actually genuinely like! My current read comes under that category. Nice review!

    1. Thank you! 🙂
      I think the ‘appreciating’ thing probably goes for a lot of ‘classic’ reads too.

  5. Quotation marks seem to be a popular thing these days. Find it kinda irritating! I like how you expressed your thoughts on this book!

    1. Thanks Jee! 🙂 Appreciate you stopping by, especially as you must be extra busy at the moment.

      1. You’re always so thoughtful and understanding, NS! ❤️❤️ It’s just crazy having to care for two little ones… 😅 But I love them to bits! Just need a break sometimes… 😔

        1. Oh yeah I understand what you mean, quite impressed you still get around to commenting on other people’s blogs 😉

          1. Hahahaha thanks! I do a little blog hop when they’re asleep…it’s quite difficult for me to catch a few winks these days especially with a newborn, everything gets out of whack 😅

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