Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett Review: “a masterfully executed balancing act”

Pond Claire Louise BennettClaire-Louise Bennett’s first collection of short stories, published last April by Stinging Fly Press, is a complex and varied body of work. Curiously, it reads much like a novel, the narrative voice leading through the work, presenting a series of vignettes which are both reassuringly banal and deeply personal and profound all at once.As a body of work, it is a collection which challenges the reader’s perception of short stories as book-ended, stand-alone pieces of work. Each of the stories in the collection is, on its own, a self-contained piece of prose, and yet, when taken together, they link and inter-relate in a fashion that makes them stronger and more cohesive overall. In many ways, Pond, as a collection, could be read and viewed as a novel, one which deals with the quieter parts of human nature, the small struggles and triumphs of human experience. In examining these things, it exalts them. Denying the readers’ expectations of traditional narrative or dramatic action, Pond surprises instead in its close and minute scrutiny of the unashamedly ordinary. This element is perhaps most obviously illustrated in the story “Control Knobs”, but it is a theme which runs throughout the entirety of the collection.As its title suggests, Pond is at times reflective, and at others a dizzying exposition of sights and sounds. Its form is a mixed bag. Some of the pieces contained within it are elegantly descriptive, others run to a mere page or two, and are tightly composed and skilfully written pieces of short fiction. At times it barely reads like prose, with stories like its opening piece “Morning, Noon & Night” making use of repetition in a manner that is subtly and yet challengingly poetic. It is a body of work which challenges form, content and narrative structure, favouring the everyday over the dramatic in a manner which is remarkably true to life, despite the at-times ethereal nature of Bennett’s writing.Pond is an example of a literary experiment at its finest. In its gentle manner, it is a masterfully executed balancing act – using everyday experience to open a door for its readership to explore in a familiar space the unfamiliar elements of form and style. In tone, the stories contained within this collection have the distinct feelings of beginnings and of eyes being gently pried open. Bennett’s use of the English language, in a collection where “English, strictly speaking, is not [its] first language”, is a testament to not only the author’s individual talent, but also to the thriving state of experimental short fiction being published today.