May 2022 Book Rec: Checkout 19 by Claire-Louise Bennett

In the middle of reading Checkout 19, Claire-Louise Bennett’s coming-of-age novel about a girl who really really loves to read, I rhapsodized to Keets that this book had put into words something that had always been true of my reading experience but that I had never noticed, let alone described. 

We have a tendency don’t we of reading the last few sentences on the right page hurriedly. We do actually. We enjoy turning the pages of a book and our anticipation of doing so is obviously fairly fervid and undermines our attention to such an extent that we can’t help but skim over the last couple of sentences on the right page probably without really taking in a single word. Quite often when we make a start on the left page it doesn’t make a great deal of sense to us. No. No. No it doesn’t. And it is only then, isn’t it, that we realise, somewhat reluctantly, that we didn’t read the last few lines of the previous page properly. Quite often, we are so reluctant to acknowledge that this makes any difference, we carry on reading. We carry on that’s right even though we can’t make head nor tail of what we are reading.

–Claire-Louise Bennett, Checkout 19

I’m sorry to spend most of this post simply quoting this book word-for-word, but I think this passage demonstrates for itself the main strengths of this book: the ferociously urgent prose and the equally ferocious powers of observation. And if you’re a bookworm, like me, you’ll probably enjoy reading a book about a character who inhales books so eagerly that she can’t be bothered to read the bottom right-hand side of the page.

As she grows up, the narrator begins to write stories, especially one epic tale about a man named Tarquin Superbus who has a library full of empty books, and shares them with an admired teacher. (She also gets her period, which is its own hilarious interlude.) Some things happen, but not really many things. The pleasure of this short book is all in its voice and its lucid, unique, and wryly funny perspective. Which is not to say that the pleasures are few—reading it is an absolutely exhilarating experience.


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