Book Review for “Delphi” by Clare Pollard.
Summary: “Covid-19 has arrived in London, and the entire world quickly succumbs to the surreal, chaotic mundanity of screens, isolation, and the disasters small and large that have plagued recent history. As our unnamed narrator—a classics academic immersed in her studies of ancient prophecies—navigates the tightening grip of lockdown, a marriage in crisis, and a ten-year-old son who seems increasingly unreachable, she becomes obsessed with predicting the future. Shifting her focus from chiromancy (prophecy by palm reading) to zoomancy (prophecy by animal behavior) to oenomancy (prophecy by wine), she fails to notice the future creeping into the heart of her very own home, and when she finally does, the threat has already breached the gates.“
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Contemporary; UK – London (mostly); Other Categories: Novel, Debut Novel, Humor, Psychological, Mythology.
Was it coincidence that I picked up this book just as I was recovering from Covid-19 myself? Probably, but boy, did this novel ever speak to me. I mean, all the caution and care I took for about two years and then BOOM, I finally go abroad, and I get sick. While this isn’t a total parallel to what the unnamed narrator of this novel experiences, there are quite a few things that I could point to and say “yes, I hear you” when I was reading this book. Obviously, while I could identify with lots in this book, I’m sure I’m not the only one; even people who didn’t catch it will be able to see a whole lot here that they recognize from the past two years.
What makes this book unique is that Pollard juxtaposes all of these many methods of predicting the future from ancient times, to the desire of the unnamed narrator to know that everything is going to be alright. Again, this desire to hope for a good outcome to our present (and recent past) disastrous situation, is something I think everyone has been feeling at one point or another since the pandemic began. Some of the prediction methods are ones we’ve heard about; some are pretty outrageous, as well. The pedestrian ones like Tarot cards, horoscopes, and consulting with psychics all get some interesting, albeit sometimes obvious) spins to them, such as when she says it doesn’t bode well that her psychic is surprised to get a call from her. The more unusual ones come with lots of ancient mythology and stories attached. I found these to be fascinating, since Pollard has her protagonist tell these tales in a very simplistic way, which often made them sound ridiculous, if not downright funny. Yes, some of the stories are pretty gory in nature, but Pollard still told them with a twinkle in her eye.
I understand from the information about Pollard that she’s published several books of poetry. That is something that I probably might not have guessed, considering the very direct, first-person account that her protagonist gives us of these events. This isn’t to say that there weren’t some very poetic turns of phrase here and there, but you’re not going to find swaths of florid descriptions here. This is a story about raw emotions, difficult situations, and Pollard must have known that waxing poetic would have felt totally out of place in this setting. Pollard let the language remain harsh and sometimes a bit crude (but not so much as to be disturbing) to make sure we had the proper atmosphere. Mix that with the above-mentioned twinkle, and there were times I laughed out loud – not only because something was funny, but also because of the uncomfortable circumstances. You know, like how we sometimes laugh when we’re embarrassed? Like that.
As I already said, our protagonist/narrator here is unnamed, and speaks to us in first-person. There are pluses and minuses to this POV, and I know not everyone appreciates it, but in general, if done well, it can work very nicely. Personally, I can’t imagine this novel being told any other way, since I can’t see how a third-person narrative would have felt as powerful. I mean, the narrator here is probably somewhat unreliable, but she’s also very harsh on herself, which points to more reliability than usual in a first-person voice. It also gives us a great deal of insight into this woman, and how she deals with her husband and (not terribly healthy) young son. Finally, when you read the last chapter’s last lines, you might also have a bit of a lump in your throat, as well. I think, therefore, that I can very warmly recommend this novel to people who are looking for something just a bit out of the ordinary. For all this, I’m giving it a very vigorous 4.75 out of five stars, as well (rounded up to 5 stars for the graphic, of course).
Avid Reader Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, released “Delphi” by Clare Pollard on August 2, 2022. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Foyles, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (both with free worldwide delivery), Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Kobo US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.