Delphi: A Novel (Hardcover)
August 2022 Indie Next List
“Delphi is my first, surprisingly urgent, foray into the new ‘Covid World’ genre. Written in snapshot chapters, Delphishows us a world from our nightmares through a lens of classical mythology. Sharp, labyrinthine, and unputdownable.”
— Scott Lange, The Bookman, Grand Haven, MI
For readers of Jenny Offill, Deborah Levy, and Olivia Laing, an exquisite debut novel about a classics academic researching prophecy in the ancient world, just as the pandemic descends and all visions of her own family’s future begin to blur.
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.
Brainy and ominous, funny and sharp, Delphi is a snapshot and a time capsule—it both demythologizes our current moment and places our reality in the context of myth. Clare Pollard has delivered one of our first great novels of this terrible moment, a mesmerizing story of our pasts, our presents, and our futures, and how we keep on living in a world that is ever-more uncertain and absurd.
About the Author
Clare Pollard lives with her husband and two children in London. At nineteen, she published her first book of poetry, The Heavy Petting Zoo. She has since published four more collections of poetry with Bloodaxe, most recently Incarnation. Her play The Weather (Faber, 2004) premiered at the Royal Court Theatre. She has been involved in numerous translation projects, including co-translating The Sea-Migrations by Asha Lul Mohamud Yusuf (Bloodaxe, 2017) which received a PEN Translates award, and translating Ovid’s Heroines (Bloodaxe, 2013), which she toured as a one-woman show in the UK. She is the poetry editor for The Idler and the former editor of Modern Poetry in Translation. Her most recent book was a nonfiction title, Fierce Bad Rabbits: The Tales Behind Children’s Picture Books (Penguin). Delphi is her first novel.
“Finally, a brilliantly funny and sad look into the heart of the pandemic lockdown... [that] manages to avoid cliches and tired complaints while being reassuringly familiar at the same time… Characters, settings and even whole scenes are drawn in quick, exquisite precision full of wit and pathos. Its intimacy reminded me of Sally Rooney and its subtle, sly humor of Miriam Toews’ All My Puny Sorrows… a reassuring reflection in the darkness.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Pollard is the author of six poetry collections, and her talents are on display as information and anecdotes unfurl with pleasing syntactic turns… Delphi distills something elusive and upsetting about all the things we can’t quite see or understand about the present moment, even as all we ever do is look. This feels impressive, part of what good fiction is meant to do.”—Lynn Steger Strong, New York Times Book Review
"Anyone who feels tapped out on pandemic fiction, I urge you to give Claire Pollard’s debut novel, Delphi a try. It tackles COVID-19 in a darkly funny way that avoids the dreary dystopian fatalism that afflicts much of mainstream fiction these days... This book does a superb job of providing perspective by connecting our present moment to ancient history in a way that’s clever and surprising. For Fans of Jenny Offill, Ottessa Moshfegh and Sally Rooney, here’s another hot sad girl book to add to your list." —BuzzFeed
"For anyone looking for ways of thinking creatively and with love about art in an emergency and what just happened to us all... I would recommend [Delphi], because despite the bleakness – you can’t have realism without bleakness now – this is clever, warm and funny writing." —The Guardian
"A deeply intimate story, told in the language of maternal love, of fear, and, especially, of prophecy… From a politics gone topsy-turvy to disrupted domestic routines and interrupted life cycles, the novel vividly portrays what happens when everything stops working all at once, including the authorities we look to for succor and the stories we tell ourselves to cope.” —Los Angeles Review of Books
“This isn’t the first — and most certainly won’t be the last — pandemic novel, but it might be the most brilliant… Pollard’s novel is consistently inspired, and will keep you gripped all the way through to the heart-stopping finale.” —Daily Mail
"Ingenious." —The Millions
"A powerful fable about life in an ever-more unpredicatable world." —Harper's Bazaar
“[A] richly layered debut novel… effectively conveys the first year of the pandemic…the main character’s frustration and fear is sure to strike a chord.” —Publisher's Weekly
“Inviting, stylish and candid... So many of Pollard’s sentences ring with delicious wryness… It is the freshness of this narrator’s perspective and the openness with which this perspective is shared that suggests that Pollard’s future, as a novelist, is very bright indeed. —i
"[An] exquisitively painful debut... Pollard’s deft inclusion of all the pandemic’s practical and political challenges—masks, vaccines, social distancing, the strain on shared home WiFi networks, long separations from aging parents, the 2020 U.S. presidential election, and January 6—is wrapped in the inventive framework of prophecies. Irresistible and also oddly reassuring for all who have come through (so far) to the other side of COVID’s miseries." —Library Journal
“We need the ancients to explain today to us, and we need Clare Pollard. In brief, brilliant passages, Pollard confronts the shadow-play of our screen-entranced lives, and offers this simultaneous comfort and curse: we are not the first to live these griefs and these bewilderments. Delphi is the strangest, best thing I’ve read in ages.” —Rachel Kadish, author of The Weight of Ink
“Clare Pollard’s Delphi delivers an urgency unlike any I’ve experienced. I loved this book so much; the language, the humor, the style, which reminded me of both Patricia Lockwood and Sheila Heti. A brilliant novel born of searing eloquence and sinister wit.” —Jackie Polzin, author of Brood
“A compact miracle of a book.” —Evie Wyld, author of All the Birds, Singing
“Vivid as fireworks, the brief chapters of Delphi explode with the ambivalence, rage and dread of middle years lived within a world of pandemic and climate collapse. Both terrifying and exhilarating.” —Doireann Ní Ghríofa, author of A Ghost in the Throat