The author of Pond returns with a novel about the interior life of working-class English schoolgirl who scribbles stories in the back pages of her exercise book, intoxicated by the first sparks of her imagination. As she grows, everything and everyone she encounters become fuel for a burning talent.
... enthralling ... if you’ve had your fill of autofiction, thanks — don’t lose interest just yet. If much of the genre can be fairly criticized for its narrowness, Checkout 19 suggests it perhaps hasn’t yet been fully explored. True, Bennett shares a similar biography to that of her narrator, but the life she describes is one blown open by imaginative writing, by the work other writers have fashioned from their own lives, and by the transformative and transportive nature of reading ... Bennett gorgeously conveys the embers from which every story begins.
... a novel that is deliberate in its construction, down to the individual word, and yet aggressively resistant to definition ... Bennett is interested not in the shape of a life but in its substance ... Bennett’s narrators are sensualists, exquisitely attuned to taste and to texture, with appetites they prioritize over their own well-being ... For them, life is found in sensation: long baths, the sharpness of an orange, underlining their books in jewel-toned inks. They have no clear story to relate to us, but in their strangeness, their sense of ritual, their inability to respond precisely as needed, they draw us in ... The prized darkness at the center of the human mind, the place where whatever is really real about us resides, is what Checkout 19 dedicates itself to protecting. There is nowhere to go but inside, and yet what is inside is what must be saved from illumination ... It’s also, of course, a good description of Bennett’s writing, which aims to capture experience without revealing its core.
Sly and strange and deceptively casual ... Bennett’s language is a strange mix of the exact and the commonplace, silted up with pat phrases and linguistic filler ... The language is engaging yet constrained ... It is a thoroughly discombobulating effect, a narrative voice that is both unstable and unified, commonplace and unique, drab and hypnotic. It can feel as if this work of fiction is being disassembled and reassembled as you read it, bent nails left protruding from beautifully polished wood ... In most ways, though, Bennett’s second book is far less oblique than her first. It has a clear subject—the narrator’s relationship to books and writing over the course of her early life—and though it takes plenty of detours, proceeds more or less in chronological order ... The most familiar section—a writer finding her calling amid the confusions of youth...is still far from conventional. It has a shifting, spiraling structure, like someone mulling over memories, but also a momentum and an insistence on the tactile ... Checkout 19 is more approachable, more immediately satisfying, but also more familiar. They do not feel, however, quite like separate books, but like two installments from a longer, ongoing effort.