All He Ever Wanted Paperback – 6 Nov 2003
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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 alternate Paperback edition.
*'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
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I don't know anyone who has read this, I haven't looked at the other reviews yet - so here goes. Another of my charity shop buys that I kept at the beach hut, so took a while... Read morePublished 13 months ago by Janet Gogerty
Having just completed the book I feel as though I have wasted the whole of my time this last week. I enjoyed the prose but the story was so boring. Read morePublished 19 months ago by carol ann dooley
Great book and allows you to imagine the ending. Romantic without the soppy, good holiday read.i recommend it to youPublished on 29 Jun. 2014 by judy ryan
The fantastically prolific Anita Shreve tends to alternate between historical and contemporary fiction. Read morePublished on 25 Mar. 2014 by Kate Hopkins
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 morePublished on 31 Aug. 2012 by Bookworm
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 morePublished on 28 May 2012 by Tin Lizzie
This is a terrific period novel by the author, and she very capably captures the social mores and customs of the times. Read morePublished on 9 Feb. 2012 by lawyeraau
We discussed this book at a local bookclub and I was the only one from 10 people who didn't like it. Read morePublished on 15 Mar. 2010 by Nour Zeinab
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 morePublished on 18 Sept. 2009 by Eileen Shaw