Shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, Everything Under, Daisy Johnson's first novel (following the story collection Fen), is a dreamy, twisty-turning tale set in modern Oxford but calling on mythology and upturning societal norms.
At the novel's opening, Gretel is a lexicographer who mostly keeps to herself, caught up in her mysterious past. She lives in a remote cottage with her mother, Sarah, whom she has recently found and brought home. Then time shifts, and for much of the book the reader sees Gretel's unusual childhood, and the long stretch of adulthood during which she searched for her missing mother.
Gretel grows up living with Sarah on a river, in a houseboat that never moves. They forage for food and remain apart from organized society. They make up their own language, words that make sense only to them. It is a watery world of shifting gender identities and slippery, changing rules, and in its midst, an enigmatic third character appears.
This is a complex plot with profound themes. Johnson's singular, hallucinatory storytelling is well up to her book's ambitious form. The result is spellbinding. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia