Apparently, the reviewers have had some difficulty defining what exactly it is Stagno (Bompiani), Claire-Louise Bennett’s debut book, born and raised in the south-west of England and transplanted in Ireland. A novel? A collection of stories? A series of episodes told by the same narrator and connected to each other only by a thin thread – the voice itself, in a sense? The difficulty of framing is one of the most fascinating features of this bizarre and surprising book. We will choose the third option, because they are certainly not independent stories; it is not even a novel, because there is no real plot (“Solitude, by its very nature,” Bennett wrote in the Irish Times “He has no plot or regurgitation of events”); but the internal movement that unites the episodes narrated by the narrator – in addition to the third unifying element, the place, and the thoughts, the comings and goings of images that the elements of this place, even the most ordinary ones, produce in her – makes these chapters seemingly untied a unit not immediately visible. Bennett studied dramaturgy, and it shows: in a sense, Stagno is something between a theatrical monologue and a series of small streams of consciousness.
We know almost nothing of the protagonist’s personal history. We do not even know his name: we only know that she is a young woman who abandoned her previous life and a doctorate and moved to a cottage in Ireland, in almost complete isolation, briefly interrupted by the passage of various humanity – friends, lovers, the landlady, neighbours. The past does not exist, except for fleeting flashes. There is only the totalizing present of his solitude, which enormously amplifies his relationship with everyday objects, with the landscape that surrounds it, with his sensations, in a stunning and visceral way, which recalls the prose together, ecstatic and full of Annie Dillard’s humour and the unpredictability of its flow.
So, we can have a three-line chapter (“I just threw the dinner in the trash. I already knew as I prepared it that I would throw it, so I put all the things I never want to see again”), chapters of a page or two and very long chapters in which the narrative voice, following the natural rhythm of thought and the convoluted and inscrutable progress of the associations we make, starts from the broken knobs of his oven and then describes the book he is reading (not surprisingly, a woman left alone on earth) and the moment that binds her most violently to the novel: the one in which the woman “realizes that the categories with which she has so far defined herself are now of absolute irrelevance”. Later, when the narrative voice realizes, rereading it, that he has made some inaccuracies in his account of the novel, he says,Pond, and the way in which to read it: “There are also other errors, mostly delusions, but I will not amend any of them because in any case, it is the impression that certain things had on me that I wanted to make them understand, not the facts themselves ».
Solitude is the state that allows an authentic observation of “things”, new attention in which they regain their numinous, totemic quality, without ever becoming a symbol of something else, an attitude that the protagonist refuses en bloc. For this reason, the protagonist gets nervous when she sees that her landlady has put up a sign that says “Pond” near a pond. The need to caption everything ruins that power, destroys the mystery of life.
In one of the book’s highlights – a scene in which the landlady piles up a pile of things to throw away to empty the annexe in the driveway – the narrator, looking in the stack, sees an object that shouldn’t be there because from that who remembers has always been at home: an envelope containing the letter of an ancient love. And now that that letter stands “alone, no longer subject to anything”, it can read it again without overlapping its past desire with those written words, it can really see it.
Sometimes the most trivial things (the contemptuous enemies of so-called tinello literature are far away: the tinello is practically the co-protagonist here), they serve the narrator to talk about an underground pain that is never explained, perhaps a traumatic event or general fatigue to live that also emerges from some clues scattered around. The translation by Tommaso Pincio fully returns the eccentricity of the narrative voice. Very often the voice is addressed to a “you” that Pincio, unable to maintain the ambiguity of English, has decided to translate with “you”: thus he lets us imagine an invisible interlocutor, which is perhaps the reader, or perhaps no.
Among his references, Bennett cites Beckett and Lispector (and in fact the book recalls, in some ways, the uninterrupted discourse of the Unmentionable of the first and of Acqua viva of the second, especially in the r ê veries of the protagonist), but it seems to me, as well as to the aforementioned Annie Dillard, that there is also a great affinity of vision with Marianne Moore, the modernist poet of attention, acute observation and magnificent and precise details, who wrote with the same intent look of exotic animals, various objects and people, and that, at the end of a poem entitled When I buy paintings, he declared, quoting a sentence from an essay on which he had studied for an evening course of poetry: “The gist is this: of whatever it is, / must be” enlightened by penetrating glances in the very life of things “”. Or, to put it in the words of TS Eliot in the essay on her at the bottom of Moore’s collection of poems published by Adelphi, her meticulous details serve to show “more clearly” a unitary whole, to throw the reader suddenly “in an unusual state of awareness, to make us perceive incredible visual models thanks to tools that have almost the charm of a high-power microscope ». Here it is: Pandit works just the same way. “There is nothing too specific for a creature like a man” said Samuel Johnson. The objects of Claire-Louise Bennett and the woman who watches them are prisms through which the experience of the world translates into new forms.