Everything You Need, by A.L. Kennedy

I had read an extract of AL Kennedy’s work for a writing assignment and I have seen her on television. She has a great reputation and comes across as intelligent, articulate and funny. So I was really looking forward to reading one of her novels and I was pleased when I found this one, Everything you Need, in my local library.

You can’t fault the writing. This book is written in a high literary style. Every paragraph, every sentence, every phrase is perfectly crafted. Words are used in new and different combinations. The evoking of place and atmosphere is spot on. The author’s considerable abilities shine through. The writing is stylish. Elegant. Clever. Thought provoking.

But, after getting half way through, and having renewed my loan for the third time at my local library, I decided life is too short to read something that is a chore, rather than enjoyable.

Why did I find this book so difficult to read?

  •  it is far too long,
  • the characters are unlikeable,
  • the basic story line seems implausable
  • the writing is so rich and, in places, so convoluted, that it requires far too much attention
  • nothing really happens.

In other words, it didn’t suit me. I like a story that is driven by – well – by a story. For the 567 pages of this, nothing much really happens. Actually, a few things do happen, but they could have been compressed into a third of the space, without losing any of the complexity of the plot.

(Although, since I only got half way through, it may possibly be that amazing things happened in the second half of the book. I just didn’t stay  and continue past the 259th page to find out.)

I guess I found the basic premise simply unbelievable. I just couldn’t believe this young woman – who did not appear to be either a very writerly or a scholarly person and who had just discovered sex  – would leave the only world she knew and take herself off to a small writer’s commune on a remote island in Scotland and spend several long, boring, lonely, celibate years with a small group of unlikeable, older people.

I did skip to the last few pages and I did read the ending. It was pretty predictable, but I won’t spoil it for you.

However, I do think A.L. Kennedy is a great writer. This book just wasn’t for me. I have been back to the library and I have just reserved a collection of her short stories, Indelible Acts. Hopefully, I will find her short fiction more enjoyable to read.

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