‘The Big Day’ by Claire-Louise Bennett

Can something be two things at once? Can some piece of reality or, indeed, fiction exist simultaneously as two separate things? Flickering back and forth between one or the other, depending on the perceiving mind. Like Schrodinger’s cat, or quantum particles. It is a very psychedelic idea. Pond, the book that this story is taken from, is described alternately as a collection of short stories and a novel. That it is satisfactorily both, always, leads me to think that Bennett had both forms constantly, simultaneously, in mind when she constructed her book.

I am a poor reader of contemporary fiction*. So much so, that I don’t really know what is out there. But Pond made me sit up. It excited me and gave me ideas of my own. ‘The Big Day’ is my favourite of its stories. Like the others it is inhabited by this peculiar, absurdist female voice that exists in a strange landscape that manages to be unmoored yet filled with an abundance of detail. As with Beckett’s landscapes, it is hard to identify a real-life analogue despite its weird familiarity. It seems mostly formed by the language of a narrator gifted with a descriptive precision that recalls Marianne Moore coupled with a disruptive instinct to undermine that precision. If you’re into sentences, the final sentence of the story is one for the ages.

*I want to note here the work of the Northern Irish writer Wendy Erskine, in her collection Sweet Home, by Stinging Fly Press. It doesn’t quite fit the theme of this anthology, but it is remarkable. A British student of WG Sebald recently posted online some of the things Sebald instructed his students in a creative writing class in Anglia. One was to never lose sight of ‘place’ in your stories. Erskine’s stories introduce me to a world within a world, East Belfast. Her eye sees a lot, and is very aesthetic, but it doesn’t go so far as Christopher Isherwood’s detached ‘I am a camera’. It is more like Proust, who imbues everything with memory and feeling.

In Pond, Stinging Fly Press/Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2015

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