Stories by Claire-Louise Bennett
Limited edition hardback
First 100 copies, signed and numbered: €30 (SOLD OUT)
Limited Edition Hardback: €20:00 (SOLD OUT)
The jacket of our limited-edition hardback features details from the woodcut ‘The Orchards of Our Mothers’ by Alice Maher in a design by Fergal Condon.
Pond is also available in paperback here.
How much should you let in, and how much should you give away?
Feverish and forthright, Pond is an absorbing chronicle of the pitfalls and pleasures of a solitudinous life told by an unnamed woman living on the cusp of a coastal town. Broken bowls, belligerent cows, swanky aubergines, trembling moonrises and horrifying sunsets, the physical world depicted in these stories is unsettling yet intimately familiar and soon takes on a life of its own. Captivated by the stellar charms of seclusion but restless with desire, the woman’s relationship with her surroundings becomes boundless and increasingly bewildering. Claire-Louise Bennett’s startlingly original first collection slips effortlessly between worlds and is by turns darkly funny and deeply moving.
Claire-Louise Bennett grew up in Wiltshire in the southwest of England. After studying literature and drama at the University of Roehampton in London, she settled in Galway. Her short fiction and essays have been published in The Stinging Fly, The Penny Dreadful, The Moth, Colony, The Irish Times, The White Review and gorse. She was awarded the inaugural White Review Short Story Prize in 2013 and has received bursaries from the Arts Council and Galway City Council. This is her first collection of stories.
Claire-Louise Bennet is a major writer to be discovered and treasured.
As brilliant a debut and as distinct a voice as we've heard in years—this is a real writer with the real goods.
“No one can know what trip is going on and on in anyone else’s mind.” Maybe not, but Claire-Louise Bennett does her best to deliver such interiority of character throughout her debut collection Pond. The arch voice from Lady of the House, a story near the end of the book, teases the reader: “Has it really become an inclination of mine to reminisce in such a gratuitous way?”
There is little doubt of the answer. Twenty stories of varying lengths comprise this ambitious and writerly collection. There are one-page odes to tomato puree, reflections on the need for alcohol to engage with the opposite sex, an EE Cummings-esque short on the demise of a stir-fry dinner, amid longer ruminations on everything from the merits of control knobs on ovens to French girls with filthy corduroy coats…
Come to this collection looking for traditional stories with linear plots and dialogue and you will be disappointed. Instead, Bennett offers her unique take on the world, snapshots of a woman trying to deal with life’s peculiarities, disappointments and sudden delights.
Sarah Gilmartin, The Irish Times (full review)
What Bennett aims at is nothing short of a re-enchantment of the world […] a truly stunning debut, beautifully written and profoundly witty
Andrew Gallix, The Guardian (full review)
I’d heard more good whispers about Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett than almost any other debut this year so, by the time I read it, expectations were high and – as it turned out – not disappointed. These stories are intelligent and funny, innovative and provocative, and it’s impossible to read them without thinking that here is a writer who has only just begun to show what she can do.
Eimear McBride, TLS, Books of the Year
“And how should I begin?” asked Prufrock in TS Eliot’s great poem of despair. And here is Claire-Louise Bennett to join him—furrow-browed, hand-wringing—posing that same question over and over in these confessional stories full of chilling anxiety. That Bennett emerges, in this debut collection as a writer of rare seriousness is unquestionable. Her prose has the poet’s touch—fastidious, finely tuned and not without philosophical inquiry.
… Pond is aswim with strangeness, and allusions to its own strangeness… Bennett has a Banvillian sense of mischief and precision. Beauty and disgust jostle together.
… Bennett's fiction owes a debt to Beckett’s Molloy and Malone, and the nouveau roman, that 1950s French school led by Alain Robbe-Grillet, whose present-day followers include Tom McCarthy and Deborah Levy.
Paul Lynch, The Sunday Times
This is to say that Pond is a very funny book. It is also one which benefits from being read — and for that matter, reread — aloud, perhaps to family or friends, perhaps alone. Only in that way is the slow-building avalanche of Bennett’s weird hilarity truly apparent.
From a delightful early description of bananas and oatcakes, to a letter to a South African cooker manufacturer requesting replacement nobs for an “obsolete mini-cooker”, the volume’s defining characteristic is a tendency to ramble, which is both ridiculous and ridiculously profound.
Val Nolan, The Irish Examiner (full review)
Mostly the narrator wants to be alone: to sit in the bath under an open window during a storm, to clear up the detritus following an uncharacteristic party, to return the self “to dusk and earth”. It is here, in the abundant references to planting and digging, to the primal longing to be beneath the soil — away from the “chafing tumult” of history that is being made above it — that Bennett’s startling writing finds its nexus.
Catherine Taylor, Financial Times (full review)
Bennett has been compared to Lydia Davis.... But a Davis story tends to pursue a single idea; Bennet's narration generally sparks off at tangents, breathless yet still precise, and there is a wrong-footing of registers that puts you in mind of James Kelman... Pond is earthly, bodily and dark.
Anthony Cummins, New Statesman (full review)
Pond is a defiant book. It is ostensibly a collection of short stories, with a strong but intangible sense of unity throughout; yet it is impossible to pin down any kind of linear plot or setting. It could almost be read as a novel, with longer pieces interspersed with short, poetic fragments, but the gaps in Pond are its most important feature.
The central character of the stories is an eccentric, semi-reclusive, elegant woman, who is starkly aware of her lack of roots. She rents a cottage converted from an outhouse, leaves her window and doors open, and enjoys the image of dirt beneath her fingernails as an indication that she grows things. She knows she has no sense of belonging to where she lives, coupled with minimal awareness, and possibly a fear, of the goings-on beyond her immediate environment. At the same time, she mediates at length on blurry memories, relationships and objects of interest. She is an unusually unreliable but equally intriguing narrator, softened and lit up by Bennett's supremely skillful prose.
In the fashion of Jean Rhys and Maeve Brennan, Bennett has a keen eye for beauty in the midst of loneliness, and there is incredible beauty here.
Anna-Grace Scullion, Totally Dublin
...this is a book which denies any separability of the traditional elements of a work of fiction. The language is the character is the style is the story. It’s all about the words: one of those books that makes you realise that the story could not be told, the character could not exist, in any other style; and then makes you wonder why that isn’t the case with more books. The style is not something overlaid on pre-existing content: the style is the substance.
...there are no straightforward plots, no simple stories in these stories...but Bennett’s resistance to A-to-B plots doesn’t stop her from filling the stories Pond with some of the strongest endings I’ve seen.
...There is a literary awareness too, from the title of the opening story, ‘Voyage in the Dark’, echoing Jean Rhys’s greatest novel, to a story, ‘Control Knobs’, where the narrator ruminates on Marlen Haushofer's dystopian novel The Wall.
John Self, The Asylum (full review)
The style pays deep attention to mood—its contours and stimuli and obscurity—and shades into comedy without really viewing it as a destination. Much of the comedy arises from concrete object-hood. It’s this mix of the dead obvious vegetable life of objects, the noises and textures of nature, and the irrational, appealing aesthetic judgments resulting from these things: a comic space somewhere between confusion and religion, with an ironic pipette of commodity fetishism dropped in. (One of her shorter shorts is a Warholian ode titled, “Oh, Tomato Puree!”) The effect is a perceptual regime change, a tiny holiday-sized revolution in noticing.
...Pond has the irony and paradox of a great opuscule: so slim, so marginal, so incidental, yet new, startling, and very—it feels naïve to say—alive
William Harris, 3:AM Magazine (full review)
A beautiful, lasting book that privileges modes of human experience that are so often undervalued, if they are acknowledged at all: neither formative encounters nor outward achievement, but rather the workings of a roving, inquisitive mind, open and receptive to all.