BOOK REVIEW: Everything Under by Daisy Johnson

Everything Under by Daisy Johnson

Without realizing it, I had spent the end of 2018 working my way through some of the novels shortlisted and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. You can find a link below to my review of Sophie Mackintosh’s novel, The Water Cure, one such work longlisted.  I followed this up by reading, Everything Under by Daisy Johnson, which was shortlisted for the prize, which eventually went to Anna Burns’ Milkman.

The great thing about The Man Booker Prize is that it brings both new and established authors to a worldwide readership, something not many book prizes are able to do. Daisy Johnson, like Sophie Mackintosh, were both writers that were new to me, and I’m certain I wouldn’t have come across their novels had it not been for the publicity around this prize.

Daisy Johnson’s Everything Under comes on the heels of her debut work Fen, a magical realist collection of short stories. Johnson continues with the theme of nature, setting Everything Under on a houseboat. It is a tale of a difficult and strained mother-daughter relationship, made all the more poignant by the narrator, Gretel’s mother’s deepening dementia.

The narrative jumps from past to present and from alternating points of view. This isn’t always easy to follow but it is a risk that eventually pays off when the lose narrative ends start to tie together. The Oedipal myth is used as a framework for the novel and themes of incest, gender-swapping and cross-dressing loom large. The character of Fiona, a woman who appears from no where and is seemingly able to predict the future, is left underdeveloped, which is a shame because she is one of the more fascinating characters in the novel. 

The tale of the feared river-dwelling creature, ‘the Bonak’, that punctuates the narrative,  I found less convincing. In fact, this was a novel that generally left me feeling unconvinced by what I was reading. I always ask myself once I’ve finished a book it it’s one I’m likely to pick up and ever reread and with Everything Under, I highly doubt it. There simply wasn’t enough there to grip or intrigue me. For all the talk of what lays beneath the surface in this novel, I found it actually didn’t delve deep enough. It meandered along without really exploring it’s themes in any real depth.

My review of The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh can be found here:

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