Anna Stern’s stunning and uplifting novel was awarded the 2020 Swiss Book Prize, and her literary depiction of mourning has an honesty and beauty that will speak to many readers in the context of the current pandemic.
everything here, now follows a group of young adults as they try to come to terms with a friend’s premature death. Ananke’s early death rips a huge hole in the lives of her/his friends. A member of the group reflects on their mourning and trauma, and at the same time remembers times past: childhood experiences, holidays and idyllic summers, tensions and arguments. Ananke is a constant presence but remains essentially mysterious and out of reach. Ananke’s relationships with the rest of the group are also somehow unfathomable, possibly because of the effort involved in recalling them, but also hinting at an enigmatic and inaccessible character, or the approaching illness that may have been the cause of death.
The novel is deliberately unclear about whether the characters are male or female, leaving the reader to decide. This device serves to draw the reader in to the interpretation of the story, and to involve us in the processes the characters are going through. Many beautifully descriptive scenes of the natural world are intertwined with the emotions of the narrator as they wrestle with their grief and memories. The closing section of the novel describes an impulsive road trip the group takes to dig up Ananke’s ashes and take them to the sea by the hut that used to be Ananke’s home. The novel ends with the narrator watching and following as the friends run into the sea with Ananke’s ashes.
Stern’s writing is lyrical, poetic and creative, and the evocations of a lost idyllic childhood and youth are atmospheric and moving without being sentimental. The theme is a familiar one, but the approach is original and engaging. There are parallels with Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers, whose readers would enjoy this book. There are also echoes of Proust and Woolf, with smells and sensations triggering memories and emotions and a sense of time folding in and over on itself. The author’s eye and ear for detail is compelling and intimate, and the novel is a highly innovative portrayal of grief and loss.