One of the most striking aspects of this extraordinary book is how well we get to know the narrator – whose brain and body we inhabit – yet how little we know about her. We don’t even learn her name ... What Bennett aims at is nothing short of a re-enchantment of the world. Everyday objects take on a luminous, almost numinous, quality ... This is a truly stunning debut, beautifully written and profoundly witty.
Bennett contorts language into new configurations, twisted such that each piece in the collection brings the reader to face a literary frontier and a singular character. Fractured, voice-driven, and prone to modernistic meanderings, Pond is the sort of avant-garde opus destined to put its author on the map alongside modern-day prose stylists of the highest order ... The tilt of Bennett’s pen (or the stroke of her key) lends gravity to anything it touches ... Bennett’s stateside debut refuses to stoop, to explain, to tempt its reader with superficial ploys. This collection is for wiseasses and weirdos, a cathedral of strange sentences and unfocused meditations built upon the singular experience of being a human being. It contains only sharp observations and a constant juggling between beauty and decay, moments stretched and skewed like leaded glass ... Let us hope there are some lights that flicker but never go out, and that Americans — like the British and the Irish — are willing to grope through the darkness and oddity of this gorgeous book.
There’s little in the way of conventional plot. But Ms. Bennett has a voice that leans over the bar and plucks a button off your shirt. It delivers the sensations of Edna O’Brien’s rural Irish world by way of Harold Pinter’s clipped dictums ... You swim through this novel as you do through a lake in midsummer, pushing through both warm eddies and the occasional surprisingly chilly draft from below ... Sometimes first novels like Pond are one-offs. They deliver a voice the author can’t tap again. Ms. Bennett’s sensibility here feels like the tip of a deep iceberg, and I’ll be in line to read whatever she publishes next.
...the book comprises a series of (literally) intramural soliloquies, some as brief as haiku, often disarming and always slightly disturbing. Although it is styled as a short-story collection Pond’s sharp, fragmentary form eludes any obvious classification ... To describe Bennett as a bold writer is an understatement. Her use of monologue has both the sinister swagger of Browning’s dramatic verse and the sense of depersonalisation that hovers throughout Beckett ... The idea of personhood as an elemental force is central to the book, especially as realised in the figure of the self-sufficient, inaccessible woman, unkempt in appearance, abstracted in thought, and sometimes capriciously contrary.
If your idea of a great read requires a rousing plot line, Claire-Louise Bennett’s Pond probably isn’t going to float your boat. But if you’re excited by the kind of writing that can transport you deep into the oddly beguiling, meditative reflections of a woman living alone in a thatched-roof, stone cottage on Ireland’s Atlantic coast, then this uncategorizable book will leave you positively buoyant ... Voice is key in an introspective, meandering narrative such as this, and Bennett’s is wryly intelligent ... Disappointment is a recurrent theme in these 20 stories. Some are themselves disappointing — slight or overly abstruse — but many are as resonant as poetry ... Beneath its shimmery surface, Pond repeatedly plumbs the myriad setbacks and frustrations of adult life ... [a] brightly original book.
Three-quarters of the way through Claire-Louise Bennett’s début collection, Pond, there’s a story called 'Morning, 1908' that altered my state of consciousness like a drug...Pond, which was first published, last year, by a small press in Ireland, is not organized around a narrative, and few of its twenty stories are, either. What moves the reader forward is the sense the stories convey of a real-time psychological fabric: the reader experiences the narrator’s world at the same pace she does, a thing chopped up into irregular units organized by vague questions and obscurely colored moods. Like Lydia Davis, Bennett, who is from the southwest of England, takes a state of mind closely associated with madness and places it in settings that are utterly domestic, mundane. The result is fervid and fearful; at times, Pond recalls works by Knut Hamsun and Samuel Beckett, in which characters are more obviously forced into states of isolation. At other points, the book evokes the cottage hymns of Katharine Tynan, the pure formal eccentricity of Emily Dickinson, and the dread-laced, detonating uncertainty of W. B. Yeats. It is also funny.
...a sharp, funny and eccentric debut ... Pond tries to reach insight by way of defamiliarization: Ordinary incidents take on a special light because they are investigated more deeply than they would be in more conventional stories ... the book’s preoccupation with a kind of studied ridding oneself of the superego/organized social self that comes with being an adult works on you, slowly, making you question why so many of our everyday experiences go undescribed ... Pond — which can be mordantly funny — is haunted by a feeling of semi-tragedy, a quality of loss that’s hard to put one’s finger on. Despite its occasional unevenness, Pond makes the case for Bennett as an innovative writer of real talent.
The book is reminiscent of a country diary, with entries that dwell on the narrator’s breakfast routine or her vegetable garden. One chapter is made up of worrywart ruminations on replacing a cracked knob on her outdated stove. But the homely themes hint at submerged fears and yearnings ... Hers is a mind in attentive communion with itself, building baroque and beautiful cloud castles of thought to distract from the storms of the real.
Claire-Louise Bennett’s unnamed narrator is smart and funny, wickedly observant of her own and others’s quirks, extraordinarily sensitive to her physical surroundings ... The only thing you won’t get from this slim but demanding book is a straightforward recounting of events. Information is doled out piecemeal and in asides. Attentive readers only need apply ... Slowly, seemingly isolated incidents and fleeting references accumulate to form a tentative portrait of someone who has survived a painful, impossible love and a family tragedy ... Mysteries aren’t meant to be solved in this elliptical, elusive text, reminiscent of Joyce and Beckett in its unmistakably Irish blend of earthy wit and existential unease. Yet Bennett does much more than emulate literary forebears. Pond expresses her unique sensibility in deceptively simple, delightfully unsettling prose.
With the intense depiction of the narrator’s interior comes a distinctive style. The narrator is well-educated, not shying away from Latinate or complex sentences or style techniques, such as ellipses. As a result, many sentences read like stanzas from a poem ... Because of the gaps, the immense unknowns, the narrator of the story remains in the reader’s mind, restless and haunting. Pond is a refuge, a sanctuary. It is a space in which to slow down and ponder our existence in the physical world, to attend to our interior lives and perhaps experience reverie, which seems to be rapidly disappearing from our plot-driven world.
Muddiness is not typically a positive description for a narrative, but this mud is sparkling, full of mica and minerals that glitter with color when the sun’s rays hit. It’s through this glistening mud that Bennett’s readers get to mudlark, mucking about in prose that is alternatively deliberate and crisp, surrealistic and unknowable, to find real gems of observation and language ... It is equally satisfying that Bennett stomps all over writing-dude-in-nature territory without having to set a foot off her main character’s property line.
...the lovely writing, as precise and disorienting as the narrator, pulls you into its deceptively gentle current ... In Pond, there’s a nod to her awareness of the experimental nature of her work, though with its assured style it seems more accurate to view it as an investigation ... [a] strange and exhilarating universe.
Pond is a fascinating and utterly immersive reading experience that speaks volumes about the author’s creative process and delivers insights in droves ... what makes Pond so remarkable is Bennett’s ability to capture the mysterious essence of objects and volatility of moments in just a few choice words, on page after page after page.
The book revolves around these competing obsessions—love, or rather, men, and her place in academia—even as it busies itself with keeping them at bay. She approaches each topic wielding a linguistic shiv ... Pond is, perhaps, a performance of the narrator’s dissertation: It is wholly invested in the business of coming apart, in the urge toward entropy ... Impurities, of a material or psychological sort, persist, the author reminds us, even if they have been swallowed by Walden’s crystal surface or hidden away in a rural haven. Bennett has found disarming clarity in making them horribly visible.
Much of the book examines the strange process of alienation anyone might experience as they find themselves with time and space to interrogate their own behavior, private or otherwise ... Pond is maybe best understood as an embrace of all that wriggles in the dirt, and an experiment in uncovering that engrossing underworld beneath our more refined and constructed selves through the act of writing. Bennett, like Clarice Lispector or Robert Walser before her, writes through the dramatic into something deeper, and the result is a reverie of 'fervid primary visions,' the dredging of a riverine mind.