Thursday, September 26, 2019

Book 200: Pond



"Everybody knows deep down that life is as much about the things that do not happen as the things that do and that's not something that ought to be glossed over or denied because without frustration there would hardly be any need to daydream. And daydreams return me to my original sense of things and I luxuriate in these fervid primary visions until I am entirely my unalloyed self again. So even though it sometimes feels as if one could just about die from disappointment I must concede that in fact in a rather perverse way it is precisely those things I did not get that are keeping me alive."

Dates read: January 3-6, 2018

Rating: 6/10

When I came to the realization that I was not going to be able to hack it in my first profession, as a lawyer, I felt like a failure. I probably let that fear, that other people would think of me that way too, keep me in it longer than I should have been. Thankfully, when I finally quit I had something else lined up, and then the job I got shortly after that became the job I'm still in, so I didn't have a lot of time to sit and dwell on it, but the sense of disappointment in myself was very real. It's hard to put a lot of time and energy (and money) into a life path only to watch that path hit a dead end.

The never-named narrator of Claire-Louise Bennett's Pond is a failed academic. It's one of the few details we get about her life. She washed out of academia and responded by renting a small cottage in the Irish countryside. This book isn't really a novel, nor is it a collection of short stories...it's more a series of loosely connected vignettes. Our narrator observes and speculates on the scenery and life around her, and (less frequently) thinks about her past. It's very non-linear and free association-y. There's really no plot, as it were, to describe for this book, so I'll just get right to the review part.

The writing is gorgeous, almost poetic. There's wit and keen, delightful observations. But ultimately, this was a frustrating reading experience. I've said before that I tend to think about books as having three primary characteristics: prose quality, character development, and plot. A bad book does none of these things well. A great book does all of them well. And there's the in-between...usually, I find that two-of-three makes a good book but one-of-three makes a frustrating one. When one quality really shines, it makes lacks in the others seem more glaring. And these are obviously all weighted differently for different people. For me, their importance more or less corresponds with the way I've listed them above, in that even a book that has an interesting plot and characters fails for me if the writing is clunky. So while the writing here is lovely, it's the characters and plot that let it down.

Like I said before, there's not really much in the way of "plot" to speak of, but what's most annoying is that even though this book is the inner life of one person, she remains at a remove from the reader. We see what she thinks, but we know very little about her, about what drives her, about what she wants and needs. And it feels like a deliberate choice to make her such a cipher, but it means that it's really hard to connect with the book in any meaningful way beyond admiration for Bennett's technical skill in crafting language. It's not bad, but it's also not good (the consensus at the book club I read this for was that we felt positively about it, but not strongly, and some people couldn't make themselves finish it even though it's quite short). So while I don't feel like it's not worth reading, if you're so inclined, if you're looking for a story about a young woman who's a failed academic trying to figure out her life, I'd recommend 2017's Chemistry, which felt similar to me but was more satisfying.

Tell me, blog friends...have you ever failed professionally?

One year ago, I was reading: Ready Player One (review to come)

Two years ago, I was reading: The Bonfire of the Vanities

Three years ago, I was reading: A History of the World in 6 Glasses

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