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All He Ever Wanted Paperback – 1 Jan 2004

3.3 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus; New Ed edition (1 Jan. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349115583
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349115580
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 2.3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 238,721 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

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.

Review

*'A painful tale of obsession . . . impeccably done (SUNDAY TIMES)

Shreve is prolific, polished, unputdownable. Above all, she delivers serious topics with a readable touch (GUARDIAN)

Fluent and purposeful in its portrayal of the despair and claustrophobia seething beneath an ordered surface (SUNDAY TIMES)

Etna is a woman operating under rigorous and agonising self-discipline. Volcanic passions exist beneath her submissive façade (JOANNE HARRIS)

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Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on 30 Jan. 2004
Format: Paperback
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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Format: Hardcover
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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By A Customer on 14 Mar. 2006
Format: Paperback
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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By A Customer on 4 Jun. 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book is such a disappointment. Her use of the male voice just doesn't work. And yet again the book has an historical setting. When will she write another contemporary novel? This book reads as though it was one of her earlier works and has been pulled out of a drawer to satisfy her publishers. I have given it three stars because even a poor Anita Shreve is better than none, but it's really not a great read.
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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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