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Having an invented language she spoke with her mother--a major joy in the novel are the words like duvduv best translated as anything comforting , sheesh time being alone , or effing the sound the river makes as if moves being used with the prose understood by the reader as a method of pulling you into the logic of the novel--and growing up with the encyclopedia as her primary reading material, it seems fitting that Gretel now works as a lexicographer.

However, try as she might to neatly capture reality in words, her own reality escapes her, particularly the one attached to the most fearsome word from her childhood: the deadly bonak which stalked them and the mysterious stranger they befriended one fateful winter. Language and its fluidity are central to the heart of Everything Under. While this could have--and preferably should have--been more thoroughly mined in the novel, the way it functions in conjunction with the nuances of the novel from gender themes narratorial approach are rather effective.

The novel builds in tension by fluidly sashaying across various timelines and perspectives in an episodic fashion. Perhaps the appeal of mini-series narratives are spilling into fiction or vice versa , but it creates a very modern storytelling effect. This is particularly interesting given the traditional stories being retold or nodded to within the novel and the stylization makes the updates all the more engrossing.

Like Gretel, Haunted by a fateful, prophetic vision from Fiona, Marcus has fled their past but finds that no matter how they try to escape, their anchor to fate catches up with them. Beginning life as a child found down by the river and adopted by parent she never knew were not her own, Margot spends much of the novel trying to find an identity.

But she did not wear any of them well. Johnson uses the gender fluidity for great purpose, both as a way to execute the surprises of plot but also to look at the way gender can be uncertain. The novel mostly turns its attention to questions of fate vs free will and examines how our decisions propell us on a trajectory towards our future selves.

If the trajectory can be altered is the real question, and if we spend our lives running from our past does it mean that the past is, like a hunting dog, chasing us right into its trap? This is much like the old tale "The Appointment in Samarra" where a merchant, so frightened by seeing Death gesturing to him in a marketplace in Baghdad, flees to hide in the town of Samarra. Death, it is revealed, was just as shocked to see the merchant since he had an appointment with the merchant that night in Samarra. Some run, like Marcus and the merchant, yet some--like Sarah--try to kill the past.

In trying to atone for what she cannot bear to remember, she may have created a monster that may or may not exist.

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All leading to a well-orchestrated conclusion. If we were turned inside out there would be maps cut into the wrong side of our skin. Just so we can find our way back. Johnson is most engrossing when discussing how memories attach themselves like burrs to places and people. It makes one reflect back on their own personal history and how often location is embedded in the aesthetic of memory.

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People are also a way we stick our memories to emotional context. For Gretel, the return to the past is more about Sarah than the riverboat they lived on. All of these elements combine to create a well-crafted update on traditional tales. While the narrative examines the way history reveals itself in the present, the novel itself is an examination of old stories and fairy tales can grow within a modern context.

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Hansel and Gretel is one of the several updates working as an undercurrent in the novel and as much more than simply breadcrumbs of memory leading the way home. The fairy tale begins with the children being abandoned in the woods by their parents, much like Gretel in the story--and the lost dog she brings with her and loses near the river--but also the ways other characters are abandoned in their own figurative wilderness. The primary update of a tale that drives the narrative is especially interesting to examine through the new lens of gender fluidity and fate.

Daisy Johnson has given us a wonderful novel with well-executed plotting and narrative and plenty of nuances to treat the mind. While the novel was extremely engaging and easy to get lost within, many of the philosophical inquires could have been far more elaborated on, particularly the way language figures into the book. The prose is a thing to behold, and Johnsons current of words flows swift and true through a rich linguistic landscape that will both unnerve and welcome the reader.

Everything Under is a successful update on old tales that manages to retain the timeless quality while still feeling very modern. Johnson is a very gifted writer and I very much look forward to reading more of her. They disguise themselves as migraines, stomach aches, insomnia. They are the way we sometimes wake falling, fumbling for the bedside lamp, certain everything we've built has gone in the night. We become strangers to the places we are born. They would not recognize us but we will always recognize them.

They are marrow to us; they are bred into us.

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View all 12 comments. Jul 29, Gumble's Yard rated it it was amazing Shelves: booker-shortlist , booker-longlist , Now deservedly shortlisted, although I don't want to alter my original review and spoil the alliteration. A literary novel of the liminal, language, leaving and legend, longlisted for the Man Booker prize. The river cut into the land.

It was no good. She walked and walked until she slept. She saw the people on passing or moored boats looking at her and understood she did not look like a boy. She looked like something in between, uncertain, only half made. This is firstly a book of the limin Now deservedly shortlisted, although I don't want to alter my original review and spoil the alliteration.


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This is firstly a book of the liminal. And reminding me of the fellow longlisted Warlight boundaries are vital to this book.

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The boundary between the surface and the deep and the dangers that lie under the water. And even the boundary that Sarah creates for her and Gretel through their shared childhood language, I understood suddenly what you had done by creating your own language and teaching it to me. We were aliens. We were like the last people on earth.


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If, in any sense, language determined how we thought then I could never have been any other way than the way I am. And the language I grew up speaking was one no one else spoke. Language is then the second theme. Marcus is first attracted to Sarah and Gretel by their shared language: They had cut themselves off from the world linguistically as well as physically. They were a species all their own. He wanted to be like them, he wanted to be them. Margot as a child finds words difficult Those words on the page, swimming in and out of one another.

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She would not read, told them the words were ants which crawled, would not hold still. By contrast Gretel loved words as a child, tries to teach Marcus Scrabble and later she becomes a Lexiographer. Names are long gone. Leaving is another themes which dominates the story.

And I think it is no accident the word Gretel is occupied with as the book begins: For a living I updated dictionary entries. I had been working on break all week.

There were index cards spread across the table and some on the floor. The word was tricky and defied simple definition. These were the ones I liked best. They were the same as an earworm, a song that became stuck in your head. But added to all of this is invented legend. The Bonak increasingly dominates their lives and its true meaning and significance becomes, at least to me, more obscure at the same time the parallels with the Greek Myth become clearer to the reader at the same time the truth about the different characters emerges to Gretel.

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