A Guardian Best Book of 2022 * “Clever and surprising.” —BuzzFeed * “Brilliantly funny.” —San Francisco Chronicle * “Ingenious.”—The Millions * “Powerful.” —Harper’s Bazaar
A captivating debut novel about a classics professor immersed in research for a new book on a prophecy in the ancient world who confronts chilling questions about her own life just as the pandemic descends—for readers of Jenny Offill, Ottessa Moshfegh, and Sally Rooney.
Covid-19 has arrived in London, and the entire world quickly succumbs to the surreal, chaotic mundanity of screens, isolation, and the disasters big and small that have plagued recent history. As our unnamed narrator—a classics professor immersed in her studies of ancient prophecies—navigates the tightening grip of lockdown, a marriage in crisis, and a ten-year-old son who seems increasingly unreachable, she becomes obsessed with predicting the future. Shifting her focus from chiromancy (prophecy by palm reading) to zoomancy (prophecy by animal behavior) to oenomancy (prophecy by wine), she fails to notice the future creeping into the heart of her very own home, and when she finally does, the threat has already breached the gates.
Brainy and ominous, imaginative and funny, Delphi is a snapshot and a time capsule—it vividly captures our current moment and places our reality in the context of myth. Clare Pollard has delivered one of our first great pandemic novels, a mesmerizing and richly layered story about how we keep on living in a world that is ever-more uncertain and absurd.
Poet Pollard (The Heavy-Petting Zoo) follows an unnamed professor and mother's adjustment to the Covid-19 lockdown in her richly layered debut novel. The narrator's interior monologue alternates between racing panic and numbed tedium as she juggles a classics course, a translation project, and research on divination methods for her next book. As her 10-year-old son, Xander, deals with depression, and the two become increasingly isolated, she calls upon German words to define her state of mind. The novel is separated into short chapters, each named after a form of prophecy she's been researching, which she connects to her attempts to cope with the new normal (in "Tarotmancy: Prophecy by Tarot," she counts Xander among her mixed blessings while drawing a tarot card from a deck). In some chapters, the narrator meditates monotonously for several pages on what happens during a single hour; in others, she rushes through a matter of months in a few paragraphs. The uneven pacing creates discomfort, which seems to be the point; though Pollard's fractured narrative is difficult to get through at times, it effectively conveys the first year of the pandemic. It's low-key compared to other recent pandemic fiction, but the main character's frustration and fear is sure to strike a chord.