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.
Few things in Claire-Louise Bennett’s debut 'novel' are placed within the reader’s immediate grasp, but this image of tight, spiralling exuberance at least strongly suggests itself as a description of its author’s prose style, a style which, while it flits boldly between voices and tenses, narratives and sub narratives, the postures of essayism and the disclosures of memoir, remains radiantly distinct and always exhilarating to read ... The narrator’s compulsively keen-eyed and neurotic reflections on such formative moments—which mostly involve reading and writing, but also trauma, and sex, and the cryptic power struggles that define certain relationships—form the book’s meandering spine. But what’s most striking about this Künstlerroman (the account of an artist’s growth to maturity) is how uninterested its artist seems to be in interpreting her own experience ... Even her most surreal digressions are laid down with sublime specificity and precision ... So many of Bennett’s lines are worth quoting in full. Because she is, first and foremost, a master of the sentence, directing the foggy, expansive contents of her mind through one breathtaking construction after another.
Claire-Louise Bennett’s second novel...enacts a quest for quiddity—the syntax that embodies a cast of mind, the phrase that nails a sensation, the narrative structure that feels like life as it is lived or anyway processed. At times the effect is exhausting. Bennett’s unnamed, 40-ish narrator, raised in south-west England but resident in Ireland, holds forth in fevered, looping, breathless prose, and displays a tendency to travel long and far down the blindest of alleys. She can be arch and even twee. But whatever challenges the book poses to breezy reading are the product of unswerving fidelity to its own raw spirit ... An immersion in literature serves to inspire in a larger sense, to inflame a feeling of wonder and possibility—a dynamic not only evoked but also achieved by this elatingly risky and irreducible book.
... a profound and very funny book about growth and promise, and how not to kill them off; about women reading and writing and how they survive ... One could, at least at first, mistake Checkout 19 for a story of coming-of-age via literature, a genre so often done badly that it can be hard to recognise when it’s being put to more imaginative uses ... But Bennett’s narrator turns out to be more interested in the shape the story takes than in what anyone is ‘really’ beneath the façade ... And at the edge of it all lies the abyss, twinkling, unplotted, blessedly free of narrative, inviting us in. One of the thrilling things about Checkout 19 is Bennett’s total contempt for the idea that storytelling is a kind of journey, or that it gets you anywhere, that naive and cosy notion that structures the narrative arc of so much contemporary fiction, often—though not only—by women.