Delphi, Claire Pollard
Claire Pollard’s debut novel, Delphi, follows about a year into the life of a London classics professor, wife and mother struggling during a pandemic. Her challenges include, but are not limited to: Possible fraying of her marriage. The loneliness, confusion and frustration of her 10-year-old son. and her desire to keep her family together against all odds. While there are a few specific events sprinkled into the plot—Zoom school, vacation trips, Covid diagnoses, and fights with co-workers—the main driving force behind “Delphi” is its boring, blown-out, weird miasma. Anxiety. You’ve probably experienced this feeling at some point in the last two years.
Pollard’s story unfolds in the first person through the eyes of an unnamed narrator. I’m sure the term “autofiction” has lost almost all meaning, but this novel has a certain type of piecemeal storytelling texture and tenor. It includes short aphoristic paragraphs and sharp, sometimes funny distillations that easily fall off. Under the general definition of terms. Our narrator seamlessly moves from the story of Athena and Ovid to a virtual cocktail, watching “ordinary people” and learning the tarot while asserting his individuality through a kind of quick-witted intellect. Pollard is the author of six of her poetry collections, and her genius lies in the way information and anecdotes unfold with delightful syntactic turns.
Despite the fact that the first line of the book is “I’m sick of the future,” the title of the chapter is all about the possibilities that future holds. “Theomancy: Prediction of Events”, “Dactylomancy: Prediction by Finger Movement”, “Videomancy: Prediction by Electronic Visual Media”.
The third paragraph subtly sets what amounts to the main action of the book. I don’t know if my son will live to middle age’” The narrator mentions the pandemic — “It is teeth But isn’t it strange that the virus doesn’t affect children?” — but also to the climate crisis, and to that pervasive sense of unease that characterizes our present moment (and this book).
Pollard’s project is, in part, to portray our ever-present sense of fear. I mean, I know I may never know, but I’m always looking and trying to understand. I don’t know if I should pay attention to it. So her energy flies from distractions to historical anecdotes to worries that are impossible to name or understand. It almost feels otherworldly because of how tangible and irreversible it is in contrast. In the distraction of looking into the future, how often have you missed the catastrophe unfolding before you?
I often find myself wanting to read contemporary fiction outside of the contemporary context. “Delphi” is an elusive, upsetting about everything we can’t fully see or understand about the present moment, even though all we’ve ever done is see. Extract what makes This is striking and part of what good fiction is about. But fiction is also meant to present itself as something else, to develop its own logic by existing outside the time and space in which we are confined. ‘ can observe and capture something about life these days, but I longed for it to be more of its own.
Lynn Steger Strong’s new novel, Flight, is out in November.
Delphi, Claire Pollard 208 pages | Avid Reader Press | $26