Sorting Through Claire-Louise Bennett’s ‘Pond’

“I only wish you could spend just five minutes beneath my skin and feel what it’s like. Feel the savage swarming magic I feel” (Bennett 48)

How does one begin to write about Claire-Louise Bennett’s Pond? I don’t even know what to call it, genre-wise, and nothing I say can really qualify as objective. It is deeply personal to me and, based on the little I have been able to find about it, deeply personal to others who have read it, save for the few negative reviews calling it “pretentious” and “boring,” which is perfectly alright. That’s all perfectly alright because Pond is not written for everyone. In fact, I get the feeling Pond was written for nobody at all. It seems that Bennett wrote Pond and threw it out into the void. There is little to be found about Bennett herself, and I try not to equate her with the narrator of Pond, but both she and the narrator are so elusive that I struggle to keep them apart. Reworded, it seems to me that the narrator herself wrote Pond and then left it on a bench somewhere in the Irish climate to be either taken by the elements or passed along by hand, she didn’t care. The narrator wanted to get rid of it because she had done all she needed with it and the final step was to let it go. But maybe I’m reading too far into things. I’m forgetting that the narrator and Bennett are not necessarily the same person, although I’m sure they have their similarities. I’m not used to reading something that feels so personal and intimate, and not knowing anything about the author. And that’s not because I’ve not tried. I have looked many times for an email, some way to contact Bennett and let her know how much the book means to me. Though, I’m almost grateful I cannot find any such form of communication because, as deeply engrained in me as Pond is, I do not think my words could quite do it justice. It would feel wrong, I think, no matter how I worded it. And so I obsess.

I found Pond in 2018 in Charlie Byrne’s bookshop in Galway when I asked the staff for a local authors section. I had been in Ireland for several months “studying” in Dublin and feeling utterly useless. I loved my experience in Ireland for the most part, but much of it was lonely and I really didn’t know what I wanted there or anywhere, and that scared me. When I took my copy of Pond from the bookseller’s hands, I had no idea what I would be getting myself into. I had no idea that this book would occupy my heart, my brain, my skin. It was clean and perfect and straight; now its words are underlined and circled, and my own thoughts (I think I’m going to see a movie tonight, I’m going to make a hair appointment, Sometimes I feel like walking sex) are scrawled in the margins.

I was with my cousin when I bought Pond and we ended up in Mulranney for a weekend in a cottage between a bikeshop and the sea. I remember reading “Finishing Touch” to her on the couch while my mom and siblings fried eggs and sausage for breakfast, and some sheep from a farm down the road escaped into the lawn right outside the window.

“I think I’m going to throw a little party. A perfectly arranged but low-key soiree. I have so many glasses after all. And it is so nice in here after all. And there’ll be plenty of places for people to sit now that I’ve brought down the ottoman — and in fact if I came here for a party on the ottoman is exactly where I’d want to sit — I’d want to sit there, on the ottoman.” (Bennett 55)

My cousin listened while sipping her coffee and chuckling every once in a while. It was such a strange sensation to tell someone else’s story and feel like I was telling my own. Bennett’s writing style feels like my own thoughts are just physically out in front of me. In a review of the book on GoodReads, one person described this perfectly, writing, “it was as if the words were appearing on a screen, each one being completed just slightly in advance of my eager eye (in fact exactly as is happening now while I’m typing), the thoughts rolling out, the punctuation slotting into place just where I expected it, the words and phrases meantime building on each other in a way that seemed completely coherent to me in spite of the beginnings of the sentences having grown quite distant.”

I read reviews sometimes to remind myself that this is a book that other people have read. I am not alone in the mixture of complete understanding and befuddlement it has left me with. I almost wish there were a message board of people just as obsessed with Pondas I am. I once recommended it to a friend who went out and got it only to be disappointed and say she just couldn’t get into it, that Bennett’s writing style was “all rambling and no story.” It was one of those stupid things that felt so personal to me. I let another friend borrow my copy of Pond soon after, but asked for it back rather quickly when I realized she didn’t have time to read it right away. She never asked about it again.

Recently I came across Pond in a bookstore in Chicago and once again, I was reminded that this was a book printed many times, dispersed across the world, and even sporting different jackets. The little book that I keep in my backpack at all times is not the only one of its kind, I remind myself, and I have only just begun to find true comfort in that.

Bennett, Claire-Louise. Pond. Dublin, The Stinging Fly Press, 2015.

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