Pond is a collection of stories all telling of the same woman and her rural life of solitude. Irish writer Claire-Louise Bennett’s debut book is feverish and claustrophobic, a meditation on seclusion and the mind. Told through either a series of short stories or self-contained chapters, an unnamed woman is living on the fringe of a coastal town, recording tales of broken bowls, belligerent cows, pointless signs, horrifying sunsets. These narratives of her relationship with the physical world comes to be both brilliant and bewildering.
It is an almost a stream-of-consciousness journal-style dialogue-free immersion in this lone woman’s mind. And no one story is only about one thing: each has two or three signifant diversions and backtracks, we are taken wherever her sometimes frenzied mind takes us. We are spending time with a woman who does not particularly like spending time with people. Her life is one of solitude, and that contains its own pleasures and madnesses. And so, with no other person to affix her desires or neuroses to, the story of her comes out through her relationships with her cottage, the field, the pond, the windowsill, the new yellow paint in the bathroom.
This is a collection worth taking slowly, because of its sharpness and honesty and sensitivity on a life fully lived in reclusion. There are implications underlying every paragraph, ramifications come the end of a story. Her very aloneness informs the style of writing, uncensored and sometimes brutal, belligerent and unfiltered.
“It had something do to with love. About the essential brutality of love. About those adventitious souls who deliberately seek out love as a prime agent of total self-immolation. Yes, that’s right. It attempted to show that in the whole history of literature love is quite routinely depicted as an engulfing process of ecstatic suffering which finally, mercifully, obliterates us and delivers us to oblivion. Dismembered and packed off. Something like that. Something along those lines. I am mad about you. I am going out of my mind. My soul burns for you. I am inflamed. There is nothing now, nothing except for you. Gone, quite gone. That kind of thing. I don’t think it went down very well.”
But what, after all this, to you get from Pond? I’m not really sure. As a medition on solitude, it stands almost as a warning sign; but if it is a rumination on our interactions and sensitivities with the natural world around us but often not even seen by us, then perhaps it is something more. This is what I responded to most out of Bennett’s book. While there is plenty of lines spent on the ottoman, on the fruit bowl, there is more punch and more meaning when our narrator is outside lying under the tree, in the bath with the windows right open and a storm outside, refusing to be a gardener put planting vegetables all the same. This is where the guts is.
“Oh, fuck the leaves and fuck the flowers! I want to see naked trees and hear the earth gasp and settle into a warm and tender mass of radiant darkness. I want to see the marks of hooves, not eleventh hour disposable barbeques…You don’t know how passionate it is down there.”
This book is also the kind of edition that reminds you why actual real physical books are still worthy of your time. The cover is a simple embossing of the publisher’s logo folded in a faux dust jacket style; inside the copy is creamy and satisfyingly thick. It encourages immersion. Which is appropriate considering how absorbed and absorbing the content is.
So this frantic, strange, oddly beautiful collection did have an impact on me. Whether or not it was a good impact is another matter. The experience was funny and sometimes moving, but it was also breathless and unsettling. It is an accomplished book, but perhaps not an enjoyable one.