Tuesday, 5 September 2000

A.L. Kennedy: Everything You Need (1999)

Edition: Jonathan Cape, 1999
Review number: 600

Everything in this long, complicated novel really boils down to two themes: the relationship between parent and child, and what it is like to be a writer. It is mostly set on a remote island off the coast of Wales which is home to a community of writers. One of them, horror novelist Nathan Staples, has not seen his daughter Mary for about twenty years, since his wife Maura walked out taking the child with her. He has now tracked Mary down and discovered that she too has ambitions to write (no indication is given as to how he has managed to do this). Maura had not wanted to raise Mary herself, and so she has been brought up by her "uncles", a gay couple one of whom is related to Maura. Nathan arranges for Mary to be offered a scholarship, a change to live on the island for a year and learn from the experienced writers in the community.

Mary doesn't know who her father is - and Maura has in fact told her that he is dead - so that she doesn't connect Nathan with herself at all, accepting the scholarship at its face value. (Presumably their surnames are different, though Kennedy doesn't say so.) Nathan intends to tell her, but naturally finds it difficult to do so, particularly as he finds her sexually attractive (mainly because of her resemblance to her mother). His agonising is the main way in which Kennedy explores her themes.

Everything You Need is well written, though distinctly repulsive in places. (The very first page is an example of this.) It is a bit on the slow side, and much of what Kennedy has to say (both about relationships and about writing) is rather obvious. The characters are interesting, though as they are mainly viewed through Nathan's self obsession they are not profoundly three dimensional. A good novel, not a great one.

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