Everything You Need by A L Kennedy.

Jonathan Cape, 1999

This blog is supposed to be about writing, fiction, football and whatever; yet so far I’ve posted nothing about writing. Here’s the corrective. I don’t know whether I ought to or not but I intend to post reviews of the books I have read recently. This is the first.

Everything You Need
by A L Kennedy

Everything You Need cover

Kennedy comes laden with praise and plaudits but I’ve always found it difficult to find a way into her work. There can be an opacity about her prose that obscures understanding (or is that just me?) Everything You Need has this opacity at the start but does become more transparent once the story gets into its stride.
It’s mainly set in Wales on an island retreat where a group of writers support one another in their literary efforts. As such it breaks one of the little spoken rules of writing – don’t write about writers – but, of course, as one of the characters says near the end, there are no rules. There are also occasional forays to a London publisher’s or to literary parties.
A newcomer, Mary, brought up elsewhere by two uncles – one of whom isn’t – comes under the tutelage of Nathan, an established male writer whose connection with her we know to be closer than she ever suspects. The novel teases out the development of their association over several years as they each successfully conclude a novel – Mary’s first and Nathan’s long awaited “serious” one. We are given extracts of Nathan’s novel – but not Mary’s – at various junctures. This delineates his past and present, and will finally reveal his secret to Mary (but only after Everything You Need ends.)
In terms of characterisation the homosexual relationship between the two “uncles” is handled matter-of-factly and without tripping into sentimentality later on where it might have, though strangely – the book is set in the 1990s – the treatment of Mary’s relationship with her boyfriend Johnno felt a little old-fashioned. There was a touch of the 1950s about it. The novel also had echoes of The Wasp Factory – even before the obvious incident late in the book where this comparison is most apt.
I must say the picture it portrays of literary London is not flattering. (Perhaps Kennedy wishes not to be invited to any more literary dos.)
Since it is over 500 pages long (though the type face is large) and my reading time is short, I had put off reading this novel for years. However, it does not feel like time misspent. The characters were well drawn and mostly engaging, though Nathan’s dithering was a touch annoying. But without that there would have been neither plot nor tension so I’ll have to forgive Kennedy there.
Everything You Need contains nothing particularly startling or revelatory about the human condition beyond displaying how difficult communication can be between people – especially if they care for each other – but there are worse ways to while your hours away.

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