Review: Everything Under by Daisy Johnson

This is a DUAL Review!

“I’d always understood that the past did not die just because we wanted it to. The past signed to us: clicks and cracks in the night, misspelled words, the jargon of adverts, the bodies that attracted us or did not that, the sounds that reminded us of this or that. The past was not a trailing behind us but an anchor.” -Daisy Johnson, Everything Under

Anna: Read: 12/17/18

I like lots of things about this book. l love Daisy Johnson’s writing style and enjoyed reading about Gretel’s complicated relationship with her mother. I love character driven “what happened” narratives, and this one intrigued me from the start.

This is a very ambitious book that tackles mother and daughter relationships, dementia, sexuality, adoption, abandonment, and homelessness. I was left with the the feeling that there was too much going on. There’s lots of good tension throughout the book with what happened to Marcus, and with the Bonak.

I really enjoyed the parts with Gretel’s mother and I wasn’t sure the point of making it the retelling of a certain myth that you figure out later in the book. The modern retelling didn’t enhance the story in any way. Coincidence is definitely a theme here that is a big part of classical myth, but I’m not sure I entirely bought the ending. It was beautiful writing all the way through, but it just felt too random and jarring.

Alexis: Read 12/22/18

I’m mostly going to agree with Anna here. Johnson’s writing style is lyrical and ethereal, made more so by the lack of quotation marks and her plentiful metaphorical descriptions. As for the genre, I would describe this as a modern magical realism book. Half the time, I wasn’t sure if what Gretel and her mother see and talk about is real or just in their heads.

I liked the emphasis on words, whether Gretel and her mother’s words or the very real words of Gretel’s work as a lexicographer. Overall, I enjoyed learning about Gretel and Sarah’s relationship. Marcus was an interesting character, and he felt more real to me than either Gretel or Sarah, though I’m not sure certain if him being trans worked for the book as a whole. On the other hand, Fiona’s character felt real and raw, and I felt that she was a better representation of a trans character than Marcus. I also wasn’t really a fan of the jumping around in point of views; it interrupted the flow of the book for me.

VERDICT: We both had similar mixed feelings about this book, and give it a solid 3 out of 5 books.   

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