DAISY Johnson's first novel, ''Everything Under,'' is a force of nature. 

Its narrative is slippery as an eel and tangled like the murky, wreckage strewn waterways of its Oxford shire setting.

Its title, possibly by design, recalls the debut of another writer, also resident in Oxford, who went on to have a glittering career. Like Iris Murdoch's 1954 novel, ''Under The Net',' Johnson's Man Brooker Prize finalist is concerned with language, secrets and the damage wrought by what's left unsaid.

Johnson, who at 27 became the youngest writer ever to reach the last round of the prestigious prize, also shares Murdoch's love of myth.

In ''Everything Under'' she subverts Sophocles' ''Oedipus Rex'' by expanding the marginal part of Jocasta.

Sara, as she is called in US, is both linchpin and catalyst for the deterministic events that follow.  She is described by her ''enthralled'' daughter, Gretel, as ''like a preacher or the leader of a cult,'' but also as ''a runner, a giver-upper.''

Gretel, who works as a lexicographer updating dictionary entries, is haunted by the way her mother abandoned her when she was a teenager.

And she has spent the  last 16 years fruitlessly trying to track her down. Ringing up the local morgues has become a habit : ''Sometimes I thought that I kept doing it to make sure you were not coming back.''

The novel is built around three chapter heading that are repeated over and over : ''The Cottage,'' ''The River'' and ''The Hunt''.

The first of these is an isolated home where the adult Gretel has retreated to lick her wounds; the second is where mother and daughter lived on a houseboat for several years; and the third explains both Gretel's search for her mother and a ghoulish presence on the river that she and her mother refer to as the Bonak.

This monster is sometimes glimpsed - ''it is double headed, has more limbs than it must need, flings in and out of the dull pockets of candlelight'' but in also a shared symbol foreboding tragedy and loss.

The World Students Society thanks ''Book Review'' author Tobias Grey .


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