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2018 Man Booker Longlist: Everything Under

everything under

Next up for our panel is another book that only Book Worm and I managed to read this before the shortlist announcement: Everything Under by Daisy Johnson.Everything Under by Daisy Johnson
2018 Man Booker (longlist)
Published in: 2018
Judges: Jen, Book Worm
Find it/pre-order it here: Everything Under

Synopsis (From Amazon): Words are important to Gretel, always have been. As a child, she lived on a canal boat with her mother, and together they invented a language that was just their own. She hasn’t seen her mother since the age of sixteen, though – almost a lifetime ago – and those memories have faded. Now Gretel works as a lexicographer, updating dictionary entries, which suits her solitary nature.

A phone call from the hospital interrupts Gretel’s isolation and throws up questions from long ago. She begins to remember the private vocabulary of her childhood. She remembers other things, too: the wild years spent on the river; the strange, lonely boy who came to stay on the boat one winter; and the creature in the water – a canal thief? – swimming upstream, getting ever closer. In the end there will be nothing for Gretel to do but go back.

Daisy Johnson’s debut novel turns classical myth on its head and takes readers to a modern-day England unfamiliar to most. As daring as it is moving, Everything Under is a story of family and identity, of fate, language, love and belonging that leaves you unsettled and unstrung.

Book Worm’s Review:  In terms of writing quality this is the longlist book I have been waiting for from the opening paragraph there is a magical quality to the writing, something that transports the reader completely to another time and place.

While I loved the magical way language is weaved throughout this book, the way the story is told can be confusing if you are not fully concentrating. It switches between two periods in the past and one in the present, however, the narrator remains the same and always addresses her words to “you” not the reader, but another character. I reached the 40% mark before realising I hadn’t really followed what was happening. At that point I went back to the beginning and started again and everything fell into place.

As this is a retelling of an earlier Greek story, I have deducted marks for originality, although key points of the original story are mixed up and happen to different characters.

I loved the way the river was more than just a location it was a way of life, a driving force and almost a character in it’s own right.

Overall I really enjoyed this one once I made the effort to concentrate.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 4/5
Character Development: 3/4
Plot Development: 4/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 18/20

Jen’s Review: Once upon a time, Book Worm and I were book twins. Then this year’s Man Booker happened and I’ve begun to question our bookish sisterhood. I can’t say I really enjoyed this book despite the many raves it has been getting in the literary world. Perhaps the fact that I am a psychologist has something to do with my reaction to a book whose plot is centered around a retelling of a famous classic tale with strong ties to psychological theory. I found the ways in which the psychological issues treated a bit cartoonish for my tastes.

I didn’t know anything about the book before reading it. I hadn’t read the reviews or the synopsis and didn’t know it was essentially a retelling/reworking of a Greek myth. That said, I realized it right away and thus predicted the entire book fairly early on. In fact, if you’re paying attention, you’ll learn key details early on so little comes as a surprise in this novel.  I do think the book was well written and helped build a sense of the mythical and dark. And generally speaking, I thought it was a pretty creative and different way to retell this particular story. I didn’t love the “magical” elements and that is unusual for me since I love magical realism and Angela Carter (to whom this author has been compared) is one of my all time favorite writers. However, in this novel, I found those elements to be distracting and rather melodramatic.

Finally, I found some of the characterization and the motivations of characters to be lacking, especially with some of the side characters. To me some of the actions of characters felt staged as if they were occurring in order to meet the needs of the original story’s structure rather than genuinely flowing in a naturalistic way.

That said, this book is still probably in the top half of books I’ve read from the longlist.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Character Development: 2/4
Plot Development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 13/20

Combined panel score: 15.5/20

Ranking of longlist books:
1. Overstory (18/20)
2. The Long Take (17.5/20) ** Based on only two reviews.
3. From a Low and Quiet Sea (17.2/20)
4. Warlight (15.56/20)
5. Everything Under (15.5/20) ** Based on only two reviews.
6. Milkman (14.8/20)
7. The Water Cure by Mackintosh (14.2)
8. The Mars Room (14/20)
9. Snap (11.5/20)
10. Sabrina (9.5/20)

We want to hear from you. Have you read the book? What did you think? Does it deserve to make the shortlist? Why or why not?

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. LOL. You made me laugh. I’m a little less excited about this one now. Still plan to read it.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 15, 2018
  2. LisaU #

    I started this book but just couldn’t stick with it. I was bored. Did it get better over time?

    Liked by 1 person

    September 15, 2018
    • I was never bored with it, so hard for me to answer the question. Things did develop pretty quickly though


      September 17, 2018
  3. pbtanita #

    I am going to try this one next figuring that I’ll save one of the best for last (Overstory). I don’t think I can get the Long Take so I guess I’ll just be reading 5 of the 6 shortlisted ones.


    September 24, 2018
    • pbtanita #

      Finally finished this one! I’m mostly in Jen’s camp though my enjoyment factor was higher. I was torn on plot development. It was suspenseful which I liked, but ultimately unsatisfying, which I disliked.

      Writing quality: 4/5
      Originality: 4/5
      Character Development: 2/4
      Plot Development: 2/4
      Overall enjoyment: 2/2


      October 7, 2018
      • pbtanita #

        I will note that even though this wasn’t my personal favorite, I think it stands a great chance of being the winner.


        October 8, 2018
  4. ” I admired this novel rather than enjoyed it.” It’s such a great way to put it! I loved the book, together with it’s plot and the ending. I like Greek mythology too, but even though this story is based on a myth I didn’t feel like I was reading some Greek tragedy. To me it was more like a surreal very unusual story.

    I’m starting to think that the more a book is praised, the harder it is for the book to be liked further. People expect a lot, taking all the hype in, but in the end it’s just a solid story that wasn’t a disappointment for someone who knew nothing about it and maybe had read some bad books before it. I knew the book was going to be good, but I read it before all the Booker hype started so I didn’t expect much, but was just curious.


    December 11, 2018
  5. My first comment must sound weird to you. That’s what happened: I read a post from my phone, then clicked to reply but I guessed I missed and ended up on your page. So, I’m going to read YOUR post now and leave a proper comment 😅


    December 11, 2018
  6. Wow! There were actually two reviews! And what an interesting way of evaluating it, with 20 being the highest point. Well, I said what I thought about the novel already. So I can only say sorry for my initial misplaced comment. I should be more careful with these suggested posts under each post in the app. But then, I wouldn’t have discovered your blog, if I was careful enough. So it’s a happy end anyway 😁


    December 11, 2018

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