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Pond: A Novel Summary & Study Guide Description
Pond: A Novel Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
The following version of this book was used to create this study guide: Bennett, Claire-Louise. Pond. Riverhead Books, 2016.
Pond, a collection of short stories written by Claire-Louise Bennett, contains 20 chapters that center around an unnamed female narrator as she spends time in her country cottage and recalls her past experiences. Each chapter maintains unity through the narrator’s voice while all are vastly different in chronology and tone. This book is truly a collection of the narrator’s thoughts as she bounces back and forth between various times of her life and readers are never provided with her age in any of them. Bennett makes a conscious effort to ignore any and all proper nouns in this novel, meaning she does not name any other character or location either. Readers do, however, get a sense of time in “The Deepest Sea,” when Bennett passively announces it is 2013 at some point in the narrator’s adult life.
The novel begins with a chapter titled “Voyage in the Dark.” It focuses on a young girl who claims to be a little girl at the cusp of individuation (1). Here, the adult narrator tells her childhood memories using the past tense along with figurative language about a childhood crush and what she used to do to get near him. The man is much older and described as being unattainable, but that did not stop the narrator from climbing into trees and fantasizing about his hands as they grip his steering wheel with strength (1). The chapter immediately following “Voyage in the Dark” is titled “Morning, Noon and Night,” which is a lengthy chapter compared to the previous chapters two-page length. “Morning, Noon and Night” throws readers all the way into the narrator’s adult life. She is now beyond her college years and living in reclusiveness in a cottage in the English countryside. This chapter begins to profile the narrator as a female who went from a young, fun-loving girl with friends to a young woman who hides in her home and can only muster the mental strength to focus on making oatmeal for breakfast. “Morning, Noon and Night” portrays the narrator as a woman who sits in her home watching the world slowly pass her by. She announces that she left her field of academic research within literature and that she is so upset by it that she cannot look at her own reflection in the mirror (27). The final chapter in this collection is the only other one that focuses on the narrator as a young girl. She is seen burying love notes in her mother’s backyard in “Old Ground,” while her brother spends his afternoon throwing snails at fallen apples.
All chapters follow this similar pattern of chronological disarray, which then forces readers to dissect and analyze everything the narrator remembers happening to her. Bennett uses tiny descriptive elements to help create a complete picture of this sad and isolated woman living all alone in her cottage, wanting to go back out in the world but being unable to muster the courage and motivation to do so. In “Wishful Thinking,” for instance, Bennett writes a one-page chapter that follows the narrator around her home as she searches for a green flip-flop. She finds the shoe but is then distracted by a dirty set of dishes she sees on the desk below. The narrator cannot recall when she ate that meal and, much to her dismay, is no longer motivated to leave her house for fear she cannot keep track of time like a sane person might. There are other chapters dedicated to the narrator’s social anxiety and to her unwanted yet chosen isolation. “Finishing Touch” chronicles the narrator’s day as she goes about her cottage preparing for a party she will be hosting later that night. She is excited to throw the party, but the narrator turns her nerves into an obsession with her ottoman. She fixates on who will sit on her ottoman placed near the sofa for the party. She envisions the exact person in the exact outfit in just the right position, and the narrator is deflated when that one person does not come to the party and will never allow her to watch the ottoman being used in the way she fantasized about. The narrator invites men over for dates and courtship in “A Little before Seven,” yet, when her male visitors arrive, she hides in the back of her home, referring to the men as, “Terrifying entities” (62). Bennett uses these jumping chapters to portray a picture of a woman who has trapped herself in loneliness. The narrator yearns to make a close connection with people, but each time a person talks to her she escapes the conversation.
There is strong evidence to support that the narrator has suffered some sort of trauma at the hands of love, and the details Bennett provides only assist in explaining why the narrator feels zero connection to the men she sleeps with and believes sex should be as casual and void of emotion as the way dogs breed (122). The first and final chapters show a narrator that is hopeful when it comes to love. In “Old Ground” she is happily burying love notes and in “Voyage in the Dark” she is gleefully climbing trees to spot a vision of her crush. However, she discovers an old break up letter in one of her junk bags in storage in “The Deepest Ocean.” This letter deeply affects her even years after the man sent her the message, and the narrator re-reads the letter only to realize how foolish she had been for thinking she could fit into the man’s life (124). The lack of chronology is something readers must piece together themselves, for “The Deepest Sea’ takes place after the narrator has quit her Ph.D. program. This indicates the man who hurt her enough to change her life forever was in her life either before or during college.
The narrator provides many chapters chronicling her complete disinterest in men, and provides several chapters related to her deep connection with earth and soil. She feels no excitement and no need for intimacy with her male suitors but believes she is expected to entertain them. The narrator refers to the act of sex as, “It” (132, 108). She has sex with men she knows nothing about because has no desire to know anything about them. In fact, her only male connection in the novel comes about in later chapters and is seemingly platonic. The narrator is occasionally visited by a nearby neighbor who comes over to use her shower when his hot water is not running. Her lack of interest in men and in sex helps Bennett compare the narrator’s deep love and interest for the soil. Page 154 in the novel begins a folklore-inspired declaration of love to the earth and her soil. The narrator feels she was born there and that she wants to return. “The Gloves are Off” follows the narrator deep into her visceral sense of connection to the people who once lived on the land she stands on, and the narrator laments she cannot access those souls despite their presence. Only two chapters later, in “Words Escape Me,” the narrator chronicles a day by herself in her cottage where she feels disoriented. She opens her windows to a rainstorm and lets the water rush in to feel what is happening in the outside world. This chapter ends with the narrator’s awareness that she is under the soil, that she is buried beneath the surface of the earth, and that her placement not only made her feel happy, it also made her, “Blood throng and [her] heart flounce back and forth bewitchingly” (168).
Bennett’s collection of stories in Pond center around dark themes such as how isolation can destroy a brilliant mind and how a terrible romantic relationship can damage one’s trust in the opposite sex forever. The unnamed narrator does not share her many biographical details because much of the novel delves into the narrator’s mind and memories. She shares her deepest desires to be raped in “Morning, 1908” and reveals that she feels a monster follows her in “Lady in the House.” The narrator shares each and every feeling she has in her life, which she feels has failed her.
This section contains 1,398 words
(approx. 4 pages at 400 words per page)