Born in Wiltshire, England. Education: Graduated from University of Roehampton. Addresses: Home: Galway, Ireland. Agent: Peter Straus, RCW Literary Agency, 20 Powis Mews, London W11 1JN, England.
Writer. Has worked office jobs and in theater; Temple Bar Gallery & Studios, Dublin, Ireland, writer-in-residence, 2016.
Short Story Prize, White Review, 2013; International Dylan Thomas Prize short-list, for Pond; bursaries from the Irish Arts Council and Galway City Council.
- Pond, Fitzcarraldo Editions (London, England), 2015, Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 2016.
- Checkout 19, Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 2022.
Also author of novella Morning, 1908. Contributor to periodicals, including Artforum, Frieze, Gorse, Harper's, Music & Literature, New York Times Magazine, Stinging Fly, Tate etc., Vogue Italia, and White Review.
Writer Claire-Louise Bennett enjoys addressing existential questions and finding original narrative modes in her fiction. Born to a working-class family in southwestern England, she appreciated that both of her grandmothers recognized her as a free spirit and a wanderer. Indeed, deciding that she wanted to avoid a conventional career-and-marriage trajectory, she studied literature and drama at the University of Roehampton, in London. After graduating, she at first returned to her hometown but, getting mired in run-of-the-mill office jobs, felt claustrophobic and constrained. She later dropped out of a Ph.D. program and moved to Ireland, where she worked in theater and explored different approaches to writing that focused on physical space more than people and relationships.
A resident of Galway since around 2001, Bennett has received writing grants from both the Irish Arts Council and Galway City Council, and she received the White Review's inaugural Short Story Prize in 2013. She published her story collection Pond in Ireland first, then received international acclaim when it was republished in New York. The book was named one of the best of the year by Buzzfeed and BookPage, and it was shortlisted for the International Dylan Thomas Prize. She has also published the novel Checkout 19. In the opinion of Irish Times writer Edel Coffey, Bennett's prose "seems to blend a clean modernist style with a luxurious ornateness." AnOther contributor Rosie Flanagan took note of Bennett's belief in "the importance of exploring and elevating female experience."[close revisions]
A slender volume, Pond involves an unnamed young English woman, a disaffected academic living in seclusion in a stone cottage on the outskirts of a small coastal village in western Ireland. Bennett presents the interior reality of the woman's life, offers vignettes of her longings, frustrations, disappointments, affairs, and ambivalence with other lovers that link into a look at her persona. According to a Kirkus Reviews contributor, "Bennett's meditative debut--rigorous, poetic, and often very funny--captures the rich inner life of a young woman."
Eschewing conventional notions of plot and narrative, Bennett provides twenty vignettes that discuss seemingly innocuous events, in a variety of lengths, from short story to just a few sentences. The vignettes describe the woman placing bowls on the windowsill, eating porridge, collecting sticks, encountering a cow, cooking supper and then throwing it right away, and going to an event held at the landlady's house. The woman contemplates childhood memories, dirt from the garden under her fingernails, the broken stove's knobs, the sound of the clothes dryer, artwork that she bought, and her feelings about men. "Irish author Bennett's linked-vignette debut novel remains luminous and endlessly fascinating," noted Xpress Reviews writer Barbara Hoffert.
Without ever learning the woman's name, the reader gets to peer into her mind and see how she thinks and what her deeply intimate thoughts are. Writing in Vogue, Megan O'Grady observed: "The clarifying relief of self-imposed exile ... is central to Pond, which, notwithstanding the title's nod to Thoreau, more closely resembles a wood, with its thickets and clearings of prose and moments of dark and bright."
Bennett explained her idea for Pond, saying that she came across the book Great Reckonings in Little Rooms, which introduced her to phenomenology in the context of theater performance that helped her change her view of sensory engagement and personal, embodied experience. "For some reason I find mundane objects rather poignant--I love still-life paintings, they are suggestive of life in a way I find very moving," said Bennett in an interview with Philip Maughan online at Paris Review. Maughan commented: "What makes the book unique is the voice in which those moments are described--unfolding in a bird-like language that feels closer to thought than public address."
Explaining her style of vignettes, Bennett wrote in an article at Irish Times: "In solitude you don't need to make an impression on the world, so the world has some opportunity to make an impression on you. It was the interplay between these destabilizing lacunae and engrossing impressions that I wanted to somehow get on the page." Los Angeles Times contributor Heller McAlpin commented: "Voice is key in an introspective, meandering narrative such as this, and Bennett's is wryly intelligent. ... Beneath its shimmery surface, Pond repeatedly plumbs the myriad setbacks and frustrations of adult life."
Bennett next published the novel Checkout 19. With the narrator's life trajectory closely resembling the author's, she finds herself tracing the events and mind-sets that marked her evolution and identification as a writer, starting with a failed portrait of an admired high-school teacher that spontaneously transforms into her first story. Meditations on authors who inspired the narrator--from Roald Dahl to Sylvia Plath--are scattered throughout, as are singular encounters with unique texts, like the thrillingly illicit-feeling paperbacks on her grandmother's shelf recounting vicious Victorian-era murders. The title is taken from a vignette about the narrator's experience, while working as a grocery-store clerk, with an idiosyncratic Russian who often ogled her: the account of his foisting upon her a copy of Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil with a bare-breasted woman posing like a sphinx on the cover evolves into a fantasy where the Russian as master magician mesmerizes women in an audience in Vienna. Set within the narrative is a momentous fable written by the narrator, about a man who buys a library of books, only to find that they contain nothing but a single elusive mystical sentence.
A Kirkus Reviews writer observed that, while labeled a novel, Checkout 19 amounts to something "genre-less and unique"--"a kaleidoscopic and ambitious blend of criticism, autofiction, fable, and memoir." Vanity Fair reviewer Louie Conway enthused that as Bennett "flits boldly between voices and tenses, narratives and sub narratives, the postures of essayism and the disclosures of memoir," her "risky and resplendent" prose "remains radiantly distinct and always exhilarating to read." Conway noted that "even her most surreal digressions are laid down with sublime specificity and precision," and he praised Bennett as "first and foremost, a master of the sentence, directing the foggy, expansive contents of her mind through one breathtaking construction after another."
London Review of Books writer Clair Wills observed that "Pond got under the skin, but Checkout 19 goes deeper: it is a profound and very funny book about growth and promise, and how not to kill them off; about women reading and writing and how they survive." The Kirkus Reviews writer appreciated the book's message about how important and empowering the imagination can be when one's life is "painfully circumscribed by gender, by place, by circumstance." Irish Times contributor Coffey observed that the novel represents "a political commentary on girlhood, womanhood and writing and how these experiences intersect with class, money, freedom and patriarchy, but it also manages to be deeply moving and utterly absorbing at the same time." Coffey went on to call Checkout 19 "as compelling as a page-turner and as thought-provoking as a philosophical treatise."
FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Booklist, July 1, 2016, Diego Baez, review of Pond, p. 29.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2016, review of Pond; January 1, 2022, review of Checkout 19.
Xpress Reviews, July 1, 2016, Barbara Hoffert, review of Pond.
AnOther, https://www.anothermag.com/ (September 9, 2021), Rosie Flanagan, "Claire-Louise Bennett Wants to Elevate the Everyday Female Experience."
Edinburgh International Book Festival website, https://www.edbookfest.co.uk/ (December 1, 2016), author profile.
Independent, https://www.independent.ie/ (August 22, 2021), "My Life in Books: Claire-Louise Bennett Talks Philosophy, Bad Best-Sellers and Work Play."
Irish Times, http://www.irishtimes.com/ (May 26, 2015), "Claire-Louise Bennett on Writing Pond "; (August 17, 2021), Edel Coffey, "Claire-Louise Bennett: 'Most People Were Being Sold a Bit of a Lie.'"
London Review of Books, https://www.lrb.co.uk/ (August 12, 2021), Clair Wills, review of Checkout 19.
Lonesome Reader, https://lonesomereader.com/ (October 14, 2021), review of Checkout 19.
Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com/ (December 1, 2016), Heller McAlpin, review of Pond.
Nothing in the Rulebook, https://nothingintherulebook.com/ (October 1, 2021), review of Checkout 19.
Paris Review, http://www.theparisreview.org/ (July 18, 2016), Philip Maughan, "The Mind in Solitude: An Interview with Claire-Louise Bennett."
Rumpus, http://therumpus.net/ (July 19, 2016), Nina Schuyler, review of Pond.
Vanity Fair, https://www.vanityfair.com/ (September 3, 2021), Louie Conway, review of Checkout 19.
Vogue, http://www.vogue.com/ (July 6, 2016), Megan O'Grady, "Claire-Louise Bennett Talks about Her Genre-Bending Debut, Pond, and the Magic of Solitude."*