This is Daisy Johnson’s debut collection of short stories and they make an ominous entrance, with their churning slippery words, stark yet charming broth of folklore and feminine sexuality dripping through the wetlands and sighing vocals that curl around the chapters like an eel in primal waters.
These short stories take you captive and make you reread the sentences and pages again and again. They are bleak, beautiful, witty and strange. This is a treat of a collection where a girl turns into an eel, talking foxes scurry around, a house falls in love with a girl and monstrous young women devour men during sexual acts.
This collection appealed to me for its dark magical realist spirit. it is very wild, but somehow also very domestic. I wanted it to break free and run off across the fens and tell me more about that land.
I have always enjoyed books set around harsh landscapes, it appeals to the small town/village girl in me as I grew up in Blackpool, a small coastal town which is 2 hours away from the Lake District. This book set on the flat English Fenlands and the lives of those living in a small town situated amidst this primordial marshland.
The writing is beautiful, and made the elements of magic injected into most of the stories completely plausible, as well as being magical each was so human. Reading this was a joy, I had to stop reading to save some for the next evening.
Overall I did love this collection, it inspired me to start writing again and in particular- write about my own small town, which I used to loathe growing up but Daisy Johnson has shown me how to utilize seemingly ordinary environments in order to cultivate enchanting stories. However I was disappointed with the title and the idea it portrayed of getting lost in the wilderness of a mystical moor land, I wanted the writing to take me away into this land a bit more, like Wuthering Heights or The Secret Garden. The stories were hypnotic and a very intimate look at the lives of different female characters but it didn’t go beyond that and the characters didn’t seem to wander beyond their local pub which most of the short stories are centered around.
The female characters almost seemed like wild things born from the ancient Fenlands. These women appeared dark, aloof, impatient for something and delightfully sensual. I loved this because I could feel the captivating wickedness seep through the pages- there was something so fleshy yet so supernatural about them, like creatures creeping out from the swamps to engage with our hominine world.
there’s a dark magic that touches Daisy Johnson’s stories and the language feels earthy as though the protagonists are speaking directly to you with such brutal honesty and with a wayward smile.
Fen is on one hand ordinary. There’s couples, sex, pubs, marriage. But within that, she weaves tales of magic and darkness, of inexplicable things, underpinned with something you understand. A longing, a need, that’s ordinary, but braids with the otherworldly.
Buy it here: Fen by Daisy Johnson
Here are some other book reviews published on the blog:
Book review of Rupi Kaur’s The Sun & her Flowers
Book Haul: Obscure Poetry Books I recommend
Book Haul: Empowering books for Wild women
Book review of Plum by Hollie McNish
Book review of The Girl of Ink & Stars by Kiran Millwod-Hargrave
Book Haul: Picture books for little Yogis & ESL Learners
Review of The Rialto Poetry Magazine
Review of Candlestick Press Poetry Pamphlets
Book Review of Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops By Jen Campbell
Book Review of Love poems from God by Daniel Ladinsky
Book Review on Kinfolk Magazine issues 11 & 12
Beautiful children’s books part one
Book Review on the children’s picture book ABC Dream by Kim Krans