The best retellings of myths and legends create an atmosphere like a dreamscape, faintly familiar in a way you can’t quite place. If you didn’t know it was a retelling to begin with, you might not piece it together until you’ve read the end, but a certain hypnotic sense memory sweeps you along in a way that feels very close to magic.
Everything Under, Daisy Johnson’s spellbinding debut novel, is a magical book in exactly that way. Using the story of Oedipus as a framework, Johnson leaps into an instantly compelling world, crafting a stunning book that’s at once an emotional character study, a meditation on the nature of memory and an examination of gender fluidity.
The novel is a story pieced together by Gretel, a lexicographer who spent much of her childhood with her mother in the canals of Oxford, until one day her mother simply left, sending Gretel off into the world and vanishing. When her mother calls her unexpectedly, Gretel’s past floods her brain, and a search begins for the memories that will unlock the past. It all concerns their last winter together, a runaway boy named Marcus and a strange—possibly imaginary—creature called the bonak.
Everything Under is, first and foremost, a novel of exquisite, heartbreakingly beautiful prose. Johnson leaps confidently and nimbly between present and past, switching narrative perspectives like a master and weaving gorgeous, spooky imagery. It has the effect of bewitching the reader, captivating us until we cannot look away from the dark gifts the novel holds and the lessons it can teach us about pain, time and memory.
Fans of Neil Gaiman, Kelly Link, Jeff VanderMeer and other modern speculative fiction luminaries will devour Everything Under. This brief, artful novel announces Johnson as a gifted storyteller who’s here to stay, and you’ll be craving the next book by the time you’re done.