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Delivered through an unnamed narrator, Claire-Louise Bennett’s POND is a captivating, challenging and uniquely compelling collection of short stories that combine the mundane with the endlessly fascinating.

Although our narrator is anonymous, we know immediately that she is a woman living in a small coastal town in Ireland, nearly a village, and that she is consumed by the minute details of everyday life. She has a keen eye and an even sharper sense of routine and ritual, yet she is not what one would call fussy. Through her thoughtful gaze, we learn about her daily life, from her ideal breakfast to visits with neighbors and even some casual sex. The collection that makes up POND is being called a set of short stories, but that is only half-true, as it is really a collection of musings.

"...a captivating, challenging and uniquely compelling collection of short stories that combine the mundane with the endlessly fascinating."

In beautiful, darkly funny passages, we join our narrator as she walks us through her most intimate thoughts, complete with humiliating details and painfully observant social commentary. In one particular section that made me deliciously uncomfortable, the narrator remarks on two tapestries she has ordered, noting that she does not want to open them in front of anyone. She knows that if she does, she will have to comment upon them and her visitor will have to agree, as per a social contract to which we have all silently agreed. She explains, however, that she does not want to force herself to say something “smart” about the tapestries she has already paid for and received, preferring instead to admire them alone and really bask in their beauty. In passages like this, Bennett relays to us a very common situation, but unpacks it so thoroughly and so carefully that one cannot help but marvel at both society and the author’s immense talent.

There are several uncomfortable situations like this one in POND, from overstaying a visit at a neighbor’s to feeling like a stranger in a country one calls home, and yet the book is simmering with quiet beauty and perfectly poised language. Never before have I felt so tapped into a character’s psyche --- nearly trapped in it, in fact --- while still enjoying every moment and phrase. If the narrator’s keen eye can become overwhelming at times, it is only because Bennett has taken such care to target our most intimate thoughts in the most unassuming of objects. Throughout POND, there is an overpowering sense of connectedness between the narrator and her surroundings, from the stone window sill of her kitchen to the signpost near her pond, and that is what makes the book such a success. After all, anyone can write about an average woman observing ordinary things, but Bennett has elevated this model to something astoundingly universal, yet nearly disarmingly personal.

At the same time, there is a casual humor to POND that you may miss if you read the book too quickly. In one section, a “Portaloo” arrives near the author’s home and she remarks, “I hadn’t seen it coming, that’s to say I wasn’t here when it was delivered.” Given Bennett’s careful diction, this initially misleading statement really catches the reader off guard, making the humor that much funnier. There is a gentle comedy to nearly every chapter of POND, but it is never any less surprising, given the ruminative nature of the majority of the book. This, too, is a delightful balance that Bennett navigates splendidly.

Although Bennett has not written a plot- or even character-driven book, the consistency of her language ties every section together flawlessly. Her mastery of the English language is, at least in my experience, unparalleled. In fact, while reading POND, I was often reminded of preparing for my high school AP test and learning about alliteration, assonance and rhythm, as Bennett has clearly studied these and many other literary techniques. Again, this is something any writer could do, but her ability to tie these devices together without ever committing to a plot reveals an extraordinary talent. If Bennett can do this, the reader must wonder what she could do with a more typical storyline. I imagine the results would blow many contemporary authors out of the water.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on July 15, 2016

by Claire-Louise Bennett

  • Publication Date: July 11, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • ISBN-10: 0399575901
  • ISBN-13: 9780399575907