Everything under A novel

Daisy Johnson, 1990-

Book - 2018

Gretel, a lexicographer by trade, grew up on a houseboat with her mother, wandering the canals of Oxford and speaking a private language of their own invention. Her mother disappeared when Gretel was a teen, abandoning her to foster care, and Gretel has tried to move on, spending her days updating dictionary entries. When her mother phones, Gretel will have to recover buried memories of her final, fateful winter on the canals. A runaway boy had found community and shelter with them, and all thre...e were haunted by their past and stalked by an ominous creature lurking in the canal that she called the bonak. And now that she's searching for her mother, she'll have to face it.

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Subjects
Genres
Magic realist fiction
Domestic fiction
Psychological fiction
Published
Minneapolis, Minnesota : Graywolf Press [2018]
Language
English
Physical Description
264 pages ; 21 cm
ISBN
9781555978266
1555978266
Main Author
Daisy Johnson, 1990- (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker prize, this dreamy, unsettling, and vividly poetic first novel by the British author of the short story collection Fen (2017) takes off from the story of Oedipus, not following it slavishly but using the myth to deepen a sense of dread. The story unfolds in England over the past 30 years. In the present, thirtysomething narrator Gretel looks after her "awful, wonderful, terrifying" mother, Sarah, who is increasingly lost to dementia. The two lived with only each other as company in a boat on the River Isis near Oxford until Gretel was 13, and then in a little apartment above a stable in the country, until Sarah abandoned 16-year-old Gretel to the foster system. The novel moves slowly but inevitably toward unraveling the mystery of just what happened immediately before mother and daughter left their home on the river. Equally disturbing strands of the novel follow Gretel's present-day struggles with her mother, her recent search for her mother, her recovered memories of the past, and the mysterious journey of a girl named Margot. With its lyrical descriptions of a frightening landscape as well as the inner worlds of its confused characters, Everything Under demands—and rewards—close reading and rereading. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

DEBUT The quiet life of Gretel, a lexicographer with the Oxford English Dictionary, is disrupted to its core when she receives a cryptic voicemail from the mother who abandoned her 16 years earlier. This startling event leads her to renew a search she had abandoned and takes her back to the time in her life when she lived with her mother on a riverboat. It also connects her to the family of Marcus, a young man who stayed with Gretel and her mother for a time and whose story may provide the necessary clue to the past and to her mother's present whereabouts. The story unfolds in several strands over different time periods, from Gretel's childhood with an eccentric mother who educated her from a set of encyclopedias and created a fanciful shared vocabulary, through the story of Marcus and his troubled early life, to the present, as Gretel eventually locates her mother, now suffering from Alzheimer's. VERDICT A haunting tale of children lost and parents found, this debut novel is a special treat for word lovers. [This book was originally scheduled for January 2019, but its publication was moved to October 2018 after it was short-listed for the Man-Booker Prize; see Prepub Alert, 7/9/18.—Ed.]—Barbara Love, formerly with Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont. Copyright 2018 Library Journal.

Review by PW Annex Reviews

Johnson's harrowing, singular first novel (following the story collection Fen) retells the myth of Oedipus Rex, putting a modern spin on a familiar tale. Gretel, a lexicographer in her early 30s, has finally been reunited with her mother, Sarah, after a long search. Sarah, now suffering from dementia, is far from the woman who left Gretel to the foster care system 16 years ago. Gretel's childhood prior to that had been carefree but insular, spent primarily with Sarah—"a wildish girl and her wilder mother"—on a houseboat in the canals of Oxford, where they spoke in a private language and were stalked by the Bonak, a monster that lived in the river by their home and represented, as Gretel defined it, "what we are afraid of." For a time, they'd been joined on the houseboat by a transgender boy named Marcus who had left the only home he'd ever known to escape a prophecy, crafting a new identity in the process. As secrets are uncovered (such as the truth of the prophecy that compelled Marcus to flee his home) and the consequences of past decisions reverberate into the present (such as the choice Sarah makes regarding her first pregnancy, before Gretel), Gretel realizes how close the Bonak they feared has been all along. This story about motherhood and self-determination is a stunning fever dream of a novel. (Oct.) Copyright 2018 Publishers Weekly Annex.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"Gretel, a lexicographer by trade, grew up on a houseboat with her mother, wandering the canals of Oxford and speaking a private language of their own invention. Her mother disappeared when Gretel was a teen, abandoning her to foster care, and Gretel hastried to move on, spending her days updating dictionary entries. When her mother phones, Gretel will have to recover buried memories of her final, fateful winter on the canals. A runaway boy had found community and shelter with them, and all three were haunted by their past and stalked by an ominous creature lurking in the canal that she called the bonak. And now that she's searching for her mother, she'll have to face it." --

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Having grown up on a houseboat with her mother, speaking a private language of their own invention until she was given up to a foster home, an adult Gretel has tried to move on, until an unexpected phone call brings up buried memories.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2018 MAN BOOKER PRIZEAn eerie, watery reimagining of the Oedipus myth set on the canals of Oxford, from the author of FenThe dictionary doesn’t contain every word. Gretel, a lexicographer by trade, knows this better than most. She grew up on a houseboat with her mother, wandering the canals of Oxford and speaking a private language of their own invention. Her mother disappeared when Gretel was a teen, abandoning her to foster care, and Gretel has tried to move on, spending her days updating dictionary entries.One phone call from her mother is all it takes for the past to come rushing back. To find her, Gretel will have to recover buried memories of her final, fateful winter on the canals. A runaway boy had found community and shelter with them, and all three were haunted by their past and stalked by an ominous creature lurking in the canal: the bonak. Everything and nothing at once, the bonak was Gretel’s name for the thing she feared most. And now that she’s searching for her mother, she’ll have to face it.In this electrifying reinterpretation of a classical myth, Daisy Johnson explores questions of fate and free will, gender fluidity, and fractured family relationships. Everything Under—a debut novel whose surreal, watery landscape will resonate with fans of Fen—is a daring, moving story that will leave you unsettled and unstrung.