There are those rare occasions when you pick up a book, start reading... and suddenly it's hours later and it's like you've woken up in a different world. You realise it's gone dark outside, you desperately need a wee and worst of all, you've been sitting in the exact same position as you started in. Yesterday, I fell into Everything Under, the Booker-longlisted debut by Daisy Johnson, and woke up truly transfixed.
Each year I look forward to the Booker longlist, but end up feeling quite underwhelmed by it. While this year's list seems more diverse in its themes, only Everything Under really spoke to me based on its blurb.
We meet Gretel, a thirtysometing lexicographer who was abandoned by her mother sixteen years ago and has been searching for her ever since, seeing her face in other women and calling the morgues every so often to check if she hasn't turned up there. They used to live on a houseboat together, living off the grid with their own made up language, making ends meet any way they saw fit. When Gretel goes in search of a man called Marcus who lived with them for a while, she knows she's on the path to finding her mother and finally finding out why she was left behind.
Johnson doesn't just concentrate on this fraught mother-daughter relationship. She takes on gender identity and what it means to be a woman in our modern society, and places her characters in a constant battle with nature and the elements, both mentally and physically.
Above all, Everything Under is a modern retelling of a Greek myth, although I find it's better not to know which one. It would diminish the surprised feeling when you suddenly realise what's going on.
This isn't a book for everyone, but it's a book for me. Having read forty books this year, some great, others not so great, I'm thrilled to have come across a truly exceptional one. Fortieth time's the charm, right?
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