...a creepy but beautiful debut book from an exceptionally talented young English author ... Johnson prefers to lead with the ominous and make it even darker. Not many writers can pull that off. She can. In some ways, Fen reads like a pastoral answer to the fiction of Angela Carter That's not to say it's derivative; it's not at all. But Johnson shares Carter's affinity for twisted stories that examine sexuality from the viewpoint of female desire, dispensing with the idea that the male gaze is the last word on anything sexual ... It's difficult to explain Fen; it reads like a book that doesn't want to be explained, only experienced. And thanks to Johnson's accomplished writing, dazzling imagination and unique point of view, it's one hell of an experience. Fen is a haunting book about a haunted place, and it's more than worth it to take the trip.
Daisy Johnson’s debut short story collection is set entirely in this flat, saturated country. Through her tales, she taps into that uncanniness and makes it original and gripping. Boundaries shift and slide and myth and folklore seep up from the sodden ground and insinuate their way into her characters’ solid-seeming lives ... At its best, Johnson’s heady broth of folklore, female sexuality and fenland landscape reads like a mix of Graham Swift and Angela Carter. The collection isn’t always at its best, of course; the all-female cast list seemed to feel a little undifferentiated by the end, and there were moments when the language seemed not so much uninflected as flat.
Some short story writers lay such claim to landscapes that those places become unassailably theirs: Annie Proulx has Wyoming, the South belongs to Eudora Welty, rural Canada will always be Alice Munro’s. With this debut collection, Fen, the young British writer Daisy Johnson stakes her fictive territory on the Fens, the expanses of once flooded, now drained land in the east of England. Johnson has a marshy imagination and wind-whipped prose; the latter is an effective counterweight to the sometimes hyperbolic lore of this shape-shifting world ... characters can be strained thin by their narrator’s wish for them to be more than they are ... crosscurrents of connection add up to a consonance that might almost be mythic.
While Johnson should not necessarily be classified as a horror writer, her gothic fiction embraces some of the most terrifying elements of the real world and mixes them with the stuff of nightmares ... commonplace feelings are cloaked in the surreal elements of Johnson’s world. A teenager struggling with an eating disorder starves herself into an eel. A boy who likes to get drunk and pick fights morphs into a bloodthirsty fox. A girl falls in love with another girl, and the house she lives in becomes jealous ... Some stories are stronger than others. The ones heavily charged with surrealism—where magic is accepted as part of everyday life, where souls move between people and animals—stayed with me the longest ... To read Johnson’s stories is to live in dreams, at once both disturbing and comforting.
...the stories in Johnson’s debut collection straddle the drama of transformation in both the uncanny and the everyday ... imaginative depictions of entrapment and escape pair well with more ordinary stories.
Readers expecting her tales to be as flat and featureless as her backdrop will be pleasantly surprised, then impressed. These original and sure-footed stories remap bland terrain and reconfigure ordinary lives, revealing mystical goings-on, unpredictable outcomes and unsettling truths ... While strange happenings routinely disorient us, we are always alert to Johnson's more striking descriptions ... Only Johnson's final three tales, which make up a section of their own, disappoint...Otherwise, Fen is a potent, sometimes riotous blend of convention and invention.