Words have always mattered to Gretel. As a child, she lived on a canal boat with her mother, and together they invented a language that was just their own. She hasn’t seen her mother since the age of 16 though – almost a lifetime ago – and those memories have faded out. Now Gretel works as a lexicographer, updating dictionary entries, which suits her solitary nature.
A phone call from the hospital interrupts Gretel’s isolation and throws up questions from long ago. She begins to remember the private vocabulary of her childhood. She remembers other things, too: the wild years spent on the river; the strange, lonely boy who came to stay on the boat one winter; and the creature in the water – a canal thief? – swimming upstream, getting even closer. In the end there will be nothing for Gretel to do but go back.
Praise from the Desmond Elliott Prize
‘This mythical refashioning goes beyond a swish of new drapery, a blush of iconoclasm on classical features, to its own persona: beyond Grimm, after Angela Carter, to original Daisy Johnson. Emotionally disruptive but physically rampant for a book so other-worldly, its people are practically rooted in the fenland earth. Sarah and Gretel rejoin forces for the hunting down of the snarky Bonak – slaughtered, cooked up and served with a side dish of feisty relish.’
About the Author
Daisy Johnson was born in 1990. Her debut short story collection, Fen, was published in 2016. She is the winner of the Harper’s Bazaar Short Story Prize, the A.M. Heath Prize and the Edge Hill Short Story Prize. She currently lives in Oxford by the river.