Writer: Daisy Johnson
Publishing House: Jonathan Cape
Date of Publication: June 2nd 2016
Rating: 5 stars
‘’Remember about the albatrosses? We got one on our trail now. I didn’t know what it was when I saw it. It was too big to be anything real. I keep thinking about them carrying dead sailors around them.’’
I am ashamed to say that I was completely ignorant of the existence of this book. It wasn’t included in any of the recommending reading lists I receive and I hadn’t read any review of it on Goodreads. I had the luck to become aware of it after a suggestion by the wonderful Jen Campbell in one of her lovely videos that contain treasure for the lovers of haunting fiction. And I searched high and low until I found it. And when I read it, I knew I was suddenly holding one of the best books I’ve read this year.
This is a collection of short stories by Daisy Johnson connected by the theme of desire, loss and the Otherness in every shape and form and the way we experience these notions particularly during our teenage and early adult years. Here, we have a girl that transforms herself into an eel. Three alluring female vampires are in trouble when they start acting like their unfortunate, highly edible victims. A house comes alive out of jealousy and vindictiveness. A young man returns to his wife. The problem is that he was dead…A sailor’s pregnant wife reaches her limits surrounded by the fisherman’s superstitions. A mother with a strange and very familiar offspring who wishes to take unto himself the sins of the world. Three siblings share a dark, twisted fate that would put the Lannister House to shame. A woman reminisces on her life while waiting her blind date. A lighthouse keeper is obsessed with a sea creature. These are some of the stories included in this haunting collection. My favourites are: Starving, Blood Rites, Language, The Superstition of Albatross, A Heavy Devotion, The Scattering.
My first question was why ‘’Fen’’? Why naming the book ‘’Fen’’? What is the symbolism? So, I did my homework and connected my limited knowledge on the subject to new information and everything made a lot more sense. I knew that Fensalir was the dwelling of Frigg, the Norse goddess of Wisdom and Foresight. A domain of bogs, marshes and springs. And, naturally, most of us know Fenrir, Loki’s monstrous offspring that tries to exact revenge for its mistreatment. And then, I discovered that the beautiful fen is associated with water and mists. The Fens landscape, extending from Cambridge to Lincolnshire, is a marshland interrupted by tiny communities of fishermen. It’s a land steeped in legends and stories of the paranormal. The Will o’ the Wisp, the Black Hound called the Black Shuck…Think of The Hound of the Baskervilles and you’ll get the picture.
Τherefore, Folk elements exist throughout the stories. And fens are everywhere. There is obsession, sexual passion, the notion of virginity, the desire to be different, the trouble of being a teenager. The writing is exceptional. Cryptic, poetic, haunting. There is a distinct haziness, as if a mist is hovering over the stories, everything is blurry and grey. The reader needs to read between the lines, see behind the sentences and try to decipher any conclusion that may be there. And this is exactly the kind of quality that makes ‘’Fen’’ such a mesmerizing, uniquely beautiful book. It definitely reminded me of Jen Campbell’s The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night but in a darker and much more twisted, almost sinister, way.
Is this a book for everyone? No, it isn’t. It requires us to suspend all disbelief, to be attracted to bleak, twisted, dark choices. But if you want to experience a unique way of writing and if you love short stories with characters that could easily be protagonists in their novels, then Fen is right there for you. And, in my humble opinion, it’s a masterpiece of the genre.