Harvard Book Store welcomes award-winning writer DAISY JOHNSON for a discussion of her debut novel, Everything Under, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. She will be joined in conversation by bestselling author MARGOT LIVESEY.
The dictionary doesn’t contain every word. Gretel, a lexicographer by trade, knows this better than most. She grew up on a houseboat with her mother, wandering the canals of Oxford and speaking a private language of their own invention. Her mother disappeared when Gretel was a teen, abandoning her to foster care, and Gretel has tried to move on, spending her days updating dictionary entries.
One phone call from her mother is all it takes for the past to come rushing back. To find her, Gretel will have to recover buried memories of her final, fateful winter on the canals. A runaway boy had found community and shelter with them, and all three were haunted by their past and stalked by an ominous creature lurking in the canal: the bonak. Everything and nothing at once, the bonak was Gretel’s name for the thing she feared most. And now that she’s searching for her mother, she’ll have to face it.
In this electrifying reinterpretation of a classical myth, Daisy Johnson explores questions of fate and free will, gender fluidity, and fractured family relationships. Everything Under―a debut novel whose surreal, watery landscape will resonate with fans of Fen―is a daring, moving story that will leave you unsettled and unstrung.
“Entrancing . . . Johnson’s own writing summons the just-off-ness of the uncanny; she is capable of passages of exquisite creepiness . . . Her sentences have an aqueous quality.” ―New Yorker
“Skillful and imaginative . . . It takes a bold mind to steer so many elements through one tale, and an even stronger stylist to render them in a narrative that heeds, but seems not to, the laws of nature. Johnson has done all this in a book that will probably be read, like Ali Smith’s How to Be Both, for years to come as a part of the reclaiming of narrative territory.” ―Boston Globe
“Saturated in mythology and fairy tales, Everything Under is weird and wild and wonderfully unsettling. Daisy Johnson writes in a torrent of language as unrelenting and turbulent and dark as the river at the book’s heart; dive in for just a moment and you’ll emerge gasping and haunted.” ―Celeste Ng
“Surprising, gorgeously written, and profoundly unsettling, this genderfluid retelling of Oedipus Rex will sink into your bones and stay there.” ―Carmen Maria Machado
Certain books were “banned in Boston” at least as far back as 1651, when one William Pynchon wrote a book criticizing Puritanism.