Covid-19 has arrived in London, and the entire world quickly succumbs to the surreal, chaotic mundanity of screens, isolation, and the disasters small and large that have plagued recent history. As our unnamed narrator—a classics academic immersed in her studies of ancient prophecies—navigates the tightening grip of lockdown, a marriage in crisis, and a ten-year-old son who seems increasingly unreachable, she becomes obsessed with predicting the future. Shifting her focus from chiromancy (prophecy by palm reading) to zoomancy (prophecy by animal behavior) to oenomancy (prophecy by wine), she fails to notice the future creeping into the heart of her very own home, and when she finally does, the threat has already breached the gates.
Greatest hits of COVID-era angst that manages to avoid cliches and tired complaints while being reassuringly familiar at the same time ... This is the COVID novel I’ve been wanting to read — the COVID novel that feels brilliantly true to real life while elevating the monotonous drag of lockdown into something funny, sad and universal ... Clare Pollard is a poet, and although I normally avoid novels described as 'poetic,' this one benefits from her compact, concise language. Characters, settings and even whole scenes are drawn in quick, exquisite precision full of wit and pathos. Its intimacy reminded me of Sally Rooney and its subtle, sly humor of Miriam Toews’ All My Puny Sorrows ... There is something deeply comforting about this whole story. The vulnerability, vanity and impotence our protagonist feels during this particular moment in history are, for this reader at least, completely recognizable. In the end, the novel is not a prophecy, but it is a reassuring reflection in the darkness.
While the plot is peppered with a handful of specific events...the main driver of Delphi is a strange miasmic anxiety shot through with boredom ... This novel has the texture and the tenor of a certain type of fragmentary storytelling — including short aphoristic paragraphs and sharp, sometimes funny distillations that would easily fall under a popular definition of the term. Our narrator asserts her own individuality through a kind of fleet-footed intelligence ... Pollard is the author of six poetry collections, and her talents are on display as information and anecdotes unfurl with pleasing syntactic turns ... Pollard’s project is, in part, to depict our ever-present sense of dread ... I often wish I could read contemporary fiction outside of its modern context, at a time when it wouldn’t feel too high stakes and too soon. Delphi distills something elusive and upsetting about all the things we can’t quite see or understand about the present moment, even as all we ever do is look. This feels impressive, part of what good fiction is meant to do. But fiction is also meant to show itself as something separate, to deploy, by virtue of existing outside of the very time and space we’re trapped in, a logic all its own. As much as Delphi is able to observe and capture something about life these days, I still yearned for it to be more of itself.
A feverish quest for elusive understanding...is a driving force within Delphi. It makes this curious and wilfully odd tale hugely recognisable, too ... Our anonymous, first-person narrator traverses all manner of domestic, maternal, marital and professional demands. She does so with a sharp intellect and unshakeable ambivalence ... Perhaps the thought of another slim, formally tricksy Covid narrative might be off-putting ... Pollard confronts all of these questions in an inviting, stylish and candid way ... What is appealing...throughout is the voice. So many of Pollard’s sentences ring with delicious wryness ... This variety gives momentum and energy to a text that eschews the more immediate satisfactions of conventional, progressive plot.
It is the freshness of this narrator’s perspective and the openness with which this perspective is shared that suggests that Pollard’s future, as a novelist, is very bright indeed.