Fen by Daisy Jonhson
Published by Graywolf Press on May 2, 2017
cw: eating disorders, pedophilia, incest
Daisy Johnson’s Fen, set in the fenlands of England, transmutes the flat, uncanny landscape into a rich, brooding atmosphere. From that territory grow stories that blend folklore and restless invention to turn out something entirely new. Amid the marshy paths of the fens, a teenager might starve herself into the shape of an eel. A house might fall in love with a girl and grow jealous of her friend. A boy might return from the dead in the guise of a fox.
Out beyond the confines of realism, the familiar instincts of sex and hunger blend with the shifting, unpredictable wild as the line between human and animal is effaced by myth and metamorphosis. With a fresh and utterly contemporary voice, Johnson lays bare these stories of women testing the limits of their power to create a startling work of fiction.
I saw a staff member recommendation in a local bookstore that this was similar to Karen Russell’s work. Vampires in the Lemon Grove is my favorite short story collection, so I was really stoked to get my hands on this! The library didn’t have a copy, but ordered it shortly after I sent in a request. I was delighted to get it. I think all of the versions have beautiful covers and I was contemplating buying one of each if this ended up being a 5-star read. As is, I still may end up picking up a copy of my own.
Watch out for the affection. It comes at odd, awful moments, mainly when he is not there: brushing your teeth, opening the door for a parcel, at the photocopying machine. There is nothing much about him you can see which would do this to you. Affection, you tell your housemates, is a sort of sickness.
Johnson has such a smooth, unique voice. Her writing is quite beautiful and her prose borders on poetry. Even when it comes to disturbing content, she writes with a soothing cadence. I have absolutely no complaints as far as her writing goes, but the stories themselves just weren’t for me. There were a few that I really liked, but most of them didn’t do much to capture me. Below, I’ve provided a list of the stories included and my rating for each:
Blood Rites ⭐️⭐️⭐️
A Bruise the Shape and Size of a Door Handle ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
How to Lose It ⭐️⭐️
How to Fuck a Man You Don’t Know ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
The Superstition of Albatross ⭐️⭐️⭐️
A Heavy Devotion ⭐️⭐️⭐️
The Scattering ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Birthing Stones ⭐️⭐️⭐️
The Cull ⭐️⭐️⭐️
The Lighthouse Keeper ⭐️⭐️⭐️
If the blurb intrigues you, I would absolutely recommend that you read this. While it didn’t quite work for me, I think that this is a collection that is well-worth reading if you like the concepts hinted at. Although, do keep in mind the CWs I posted above, as there are some sensitive topics covered. If you do check it out–or if you’ve read it already–please let me know your thoughts in the comments below!