SHORTLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2018
'Daisy Johnson is a new goddamn swaggering monster of fiction' Lauren Groff
‘Weird and wild and wonderfully unsettling… Dive in for just a moment and you’ll emerge gasping and haunted’ Celeste Ng
It’s been sixteen years since Gretel last saw her mother, half a lifetime to forget her childhood on the canals. But a phone call will soon reunite them, and bring those wild years flooding back: the secret language that Gretel and her mother invented; the strange boy, Marcus, living on the boat that final winter; the creature said to be underwater, swimming ever closer.
In the end there will be nothing for Gretel to do but to wade deeper into their past, where family secrets and aged prophesies will all come tragically alive again.
‘As readable as it is dazzling, full of unsettling twists and dark revelations’ Observer
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
“The places we are born come back” begins this wildly imaginative story that meanders between past and present. As troubled Gretel embarks on a quest to find her estranged (and eccentric) mother, we’re swept up in the otherworldly tale of her childhood aboard a houseboat. Daisy Johnson’s inventive use of language and time-hopping narrative blurs the lines between fact and fiction to create an absorbing sense of mystery. Her increasingly dark debut novel eventually emerges as a retelling of a Greek tragedy that left us reeling.
Johnson's harrowing, singular first novel (following the story collection Fen) retells the myth of Oedipus Rex, putting a modern spin on a familiar tale. Gretel, a lexicographer in her early 30s, has finally been reunited with her mother, Sarah, after a long search. Sarah, now suffering from dementia, is far from the woman who left Gretel to the foster care system 16 years ago. Gretel's childhood prior to that had been carefree but insular, spent primarily with Sarah "a wildish girl and her wilder mother" on a houseboat in the canals of Oxford, where they spoke in a private language and were stalked by the Bonak, a monster that lived in the river by their home and represented, as Gretel defined it, "what we are afraid of." For a time, they'd been joined on the houseboat by a transgender boy named Marcus who had left the only home he'd ever known to escape a prophecy, crafting a new identity in the process. As secrets are uncovered (such as the truth of the prophecy that compelled Marcus to flee his home) and the consequences of past decisions reverberate into the present (such as the choice Sarah makes regarding her first pregnancy, before Gretel), Gretel realizes how close the Bonak they feared has been all along. This story about motherhood and self-determination is a stunning fever dream of a novel.