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All He Ever Wanted [Paperback]

Anita Shreve
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
Price: 7.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

1 Jan 2004
A man escaping from a hotel fire sees a woman standing beneath a tree. He approaches her and sets in motion a series of events that will change his life forever. Years later, travelling from New England to Florida by train, he reflects back on his obsession with this unknown and ultimately unknowable woman - his courtship of her, his marriage to her, and the unforgivable act that ripped their family apart. Spanning three decades from 1899 to 1933, ALL HE EVER WANTED gives us a tale of marriage, betrayal and the search for redemption. It has the unmatched attention to details of character, place and emotion that have made Anita Shreve one of the world's best-loved and bestselling novelists.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus; New edition edition (1 Jan 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349115583
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349115580
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 318,915 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Anita Shrieve's bitter novel All He Ever Wanted is a fascinating demonstration of the theory that old stories give new stories the bones from which they derive their power. There is a sense in which this is a reverse Bluebeard narrative--the quietly monstrous narrator Van Tassel is obsessed with taking possession of all the secret rooms in the heart of the woman he loves and cannot understand why secrets might be a good thing. Van Tassel is one of the best characters Shrieve has created--a fussy, pedantic man with a real capacity for passion and some genuine grievances with life, but lacking in some crucial ingredients of his moral compass. His love for his wife, Etna, and with the petty politics of the college where he is teaching, turn him steadily rancid, and it is only within the framing narrative that an older Van Tassel seems to be approaching a capacity for redemption. Part of the strength of the book is that Shrieve has understood the beginnings of the 20th century, not merely in terms of the surface details, but in the permissions the ideas of the time give those with small amounts of domestic power to behave badly. In the end, though, Van Tassel loses almost everything--if there is a weakness here, it is that Shrieve is so optimistic that, out of his reach and knowledge, Etna finds a contentment that Van Tassel's narrative cannot show us. --Roz Kaveney --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'Anita Shreve’s assured, subtle writing makes this more than a typical tale of Victorian marital oppression' -- Telegraph

'It is fluent and purposeful in its portrayal of the despair and claustrophobia seething beneath an ordered surface' -- The Times

'Shreve has given us a highly modern tale of an inner life where all seems straightforward, but never is' -- Scotsman

'Shreve writes with great intelligence, and keen observation, exquisitely evoking a sense of time and place' -- Irish Independent

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All you could want 14 Mar 2006
By A Customer
I always enjoy Anita Shreves writing. Her style is a beautiful elegant prose which is descriptive without being wordy. This is my favorite of her books and I have passed it to all my reading friends (to universal praise). Ms Shreve is often described as a romance writer altough there is really nothing romantioc about this book. Nicholas Van Tassel recounts the story of his relationship with Etna Bliss, it is curiously one sided as Etnas actions are described from Nicholas' view and her voice is only heard once through a series of brief letters. What emerges is a study of Nicholas' character. An educated man in a Victorian world his flaws are dissected with a clarity which still allows you to retain some sympathy for him despite his behaviour. Etna remains for us as she does for him an unknown quanitity despite his passion for her. As their relationship is descibed by an older Nicholas through its almost inevitable unraveling it builds to a disturbing climax which leaves you reflecting on how much anyone knows about the people they love
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I struggled to finish it 30 Jan 2004
By A Customer
I have read 5 of her books - and this is ranks fifth in my opinion. There are two major protagonists - neither of which I was drawn too - and in fact found distasteful most of the time. I expect this is how we are meant to feel - since the book reflects the many lives that are lived without passion or love. I had to force myself to keep reading throughout the book, and whilst it was satisfying to finally know the reason for such chilliness within the protagonists hearts I did not find the book worth the effort. It's written in a dry tone to reflect the dryness of the marriage. I found myself wishing I knew the other people's stories - not that of Nicholas. Unsatisfying, and vaguely depressing.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poignant and evocative. 15 Sep 2004
By A Customer
Not by any means a happy read, but one which no doubt reflects the experience of many. Shreves writing captures the hope of a man desperately in love and constantly hoping to receieve what is in his heart to give. As a male reader I was intrigued at her insight into the male psyche, and the elegance with which she explores the confusion and pain of the central character. If you have known the pain of unrequited love, the grasp of false hope, then you will identify with, and be absorbed by this book. A number of reviews are negative, yet I found this the most intriguing of stories, perhaps because of its realism
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A different type of novel from Shreve 24 July 2003
By A Customer
Format:Unknown Binding
This book marks a change of tone for Shreve, but if anything shows her as a more mature writer. Having read and enjoyed all her previous novels (with the exception of 'The Pilot's Wife') I approached this one with the same sense of expectation - I was not disappointed. Though quieter, many of the usual themes are there, but handled almost at a distance: we see almost everything through the skewed vision of the narrator. The moment I finished this novel I knew it was one I will read again at some stage, to savour slowly. This is a beautiful novel and will mark Shreve's transition to a new stage in her writing - to put it bluntly, this one could find its way on to a literature syllabus. If you have yet to read it, I envy you.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Fate of Unrequited Love 27 Dec 2008
This is the story not of an evil man, rather of a 'sad' man - an unexceptional man, who nevertheless wants success. Now sixty-four, Nicholas van Tassel tells his own story; how, at the turn of the 20th century and at the age of thirty, a bachelor and professor at a New England college, his eyes fall upon Etna Bliss and from that moment he's a man obsessed. He must have her and he will have her under any conditions. Etna is a woman of her time and a victim of circumstances which she sees as beyond her control - marriage seems a solution, even though she admits to Nicholas that she doesn't love him. His love for her, however, is so overwhelming that he believes she will, in time, learn to return that love. A recipe for disaster of course, heightened by the fact that he discovers on their wedding night that his wife is not a virgin! The years pass and the couple have two children; all appears well even though Etna has never found any passion for her husband. Then, fourteen years later, a newcomer arrives at the College and this sets a series of ripples in motion. Jealousy is born within Nicholas as he feels threatened; this time he will do what he has to in order to hold onto what he sees as his - both in his personal and professional life. At this time, Etna, although constrained by the conventions of that age, has a spark of independence in her and it's the actions that result from this free spirit that eventually cause the death of the marriage. Van Tassel, however, is even then reluctant to admit defeat and in trying desperately to win her back, he reduces himself to lies and deceit. Anita Shreve has created a real-life character in Van Tassel; we are able to observe how the gift of love can just as easily turn into a curse. And love has no respect for intelligence - all are equal when caught in its thrall and all can find themselves capable of acting upon baser instincts when loss is threatened. A good read(and this was second time 'round for me!).
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Riveting read 8 Mar 2004
I struggled through the first chapter or two of this book, then it swept me up and I didn't put it down until I had finished. The language is old-fashioned and a little flowery yet works well to draw the reader in to the story. The story is told by a college professor looking back over his marriage which took place 30-odd years before. The old man feels the need to explain his marriage to his son who is about to become a father.
Nicholas Van Tassel meets Etna Bliss when they both escape from the dining room of the local hotel which happens to be burning down around their ears. From the start Van Tassel is overwhelmed with longing for Etna. Even when they are married he never stops longing for her. While she becomes his wife, Etna never gives herself to her husband in any sense of the word. In many ways she remains a stranger to both him and to the reader. We only ever hear her husband's version of events, apart from a few letters he discovers. Etna is a woman of secrets and all is not revealed by the book.
This is a good story that is beautifully written. I was fully absorbed by it and once it got going it was never dull. All the major characters are deserving of sympathy in their own way and I spent most of the book knowing it was knowing it was all going to end in tears but hoping it wouldn't. There is no simple happy ending to this book, although it isn't totally without hope, which felt very right. A happy ending would have been a cop-out.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars 'I Don't Love You and I Believe I Never Will'
The fantastically prolific Anita Shreve tends to alternate between historical and contemporary fiction. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Kate Hopkins
3.0 out of 5 stars Not her best
I found this book a bit dreary, and unlike most of hers it didn't really grab my interest at all. I think I expected more and wanted to like the main character better. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Bookworm
5.0 out of 5 stars Homage to Edith Wharton
I loved this book, not least because I am convinced that the author set out to recreate the feeling of the books of Edith Wharton. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Tin Lizzie
5.0 out of 5 stars BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR...
This is a terrific period novel by the author, and she very capably captures the social mores and customs of the times. Read more
Published on 9 Feb 2012 by Lawyeraau
2.0 out of 5 stars Book Club review
We discussed this book at a local bookclub and I was the only one from 10 people who didn't like it. Read more
Published on 15 Mar 2010 by Nour Zeinab
3.0 out of 5 stars Etna's volcanic properties never erupt
I very nearly didn't read this book because of the unpromising opening in the voice of a pompous professor writing his journal in 1900. Read more
Published on 18 Sep 2009 by Eileen Shaw
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Great But Not Bad
This book was easy to read and understand and also very easy to get into. The problem with this novel is than I kept on hoping that somewhere in between the novel, things would... Read more
Published on 28 Aug 2009 by Modupe Oriyomi
1.0 out of 5 stars All too plodding
I bought the audio version for a long car journey - but it made the journey a lot longer. Some books, like 'Perfume' are better if they are listened to, and vice versa. Read more
Published on 21 Aug 2009 by Ventris Arden
4.0 out of 5 stars An anti-hero's passion
This is a fascinating book, based around the obsessive love of a man for a woman. This love is built on fantasy; it is fuelled by the restrictions of the society in which the two... Read more
Published on 2 July 2007 by Claire King
3.0 out of 5 stars not a Shreve classic
I tend to enjoy Anita Shreve books, I love how they are written and all the subtle undertones in the stories she tells. Read more
Published on 13 April 2007 by Barbbro2000
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