Everything Under

Paperback, 280 pages

English language

Published April 4, 2018 by Graywolf Press.


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4 stars (1 review)

Words are important to Gretel, always have been. As a child, she lived on a canal boat with her mother, and together they invented a language that was just their own. She hasn’t seen her mother since the age of sixteen, though – almost a lifetime ago – and those memories have faded. Now Gretel works as a lexicographer, updating dictionary entries, which suits her solitary nature.

A phone call from the hospital interrupts Gretel’s isolation and throws up questions from long ago. She begins to remember the private vocabulary of her childhood. She remembers other things, too: the wild years spent on the river; the strange, lonely boy who came to stay on the boat one winter; and the creature in the water – a canal thief? – swimming upstream, getting ever closer. In the end there will be nothing for Gretel to do but go back.

Daisy Johnson’s …

4 editions

A modern myth

4 stars

Daisy Johnson weaves and twists together a modern myth about living on the edge of society. The story is broken in time between events when a mother, her daughter and a man lived together on a boat on the river, and the aftermath of this period where they all lost one another. The storytelling is crisp and flows well for most of the book.

The protagonists create language, and use it carefully, and at the end this seems the point of the book: that our world is built from the stories that we can create. Parts are a reimagining of Hansel and Gretel, but Everything Under is very much its own fairy tale.