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3.4 out of 5 stars
6
Tell Me Everything
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on 15 February 2012
This is definitely a book to read in a day. A book about stories and story-telling, it carries you along with a narrative which blurs the line between fantasy and reality, creating a sense of intrigue as your own imagination starts inventing all sorts of possible explanations and outcomes. The ending is left open to the reader's interpretation, which can be seen as either incredibly frustrating or perfectly fitting.
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on 1 February 2018
'Tell Me Everything' is narrated by a young woman called Molly Drayton, who's on the run from her mother, following a former flight from her father who may or may not have abused her in some way. Once a beautiful girl and a gifted artist, Molly has become hugely fat and depressed. She drifts back to the town where she lived until she and her mother left home and her father, and gets semi-adopted by Mr Roberts, an old man who lets her sleep in his stationery shop, and gives her a job as his assistant - providing she climbs up ladders so he can look at her fat calves, and providing she also tells him salacious stories about a Lolita-like girl that she was at school with called Liane. This doesn't sound like much fun but Molly actually seems to quite enjoy herself: she gets a best friend, Miranda, who works as a hairdresser and is also overweight, a boyfriend (sort of) called Tim who may be mad or a spy or both, and later befriends the local librarian, Liz, who gives her Colette, Anais Nin and 'The Story of O' to read. And it seems that her conversations with these people may have the power to change their lives...

...Or maybe not, as virtually everything Molly says is questionable. It's unclear how much of the story is her rambling fantasies, and how much is fact, what the people she encounters are really like, and even who Molly herself is - at the beginning she's enormously fat, for example, but by the end of the book (and without dieting) she's magically returned to her earlier low weight and beauty. It's also unclear whether Molly's meant to be some kind of sage dispensing wise advice, or either stupid or deranged - she certainly manages to mess Liz's life up with some of her suggestions! Now, unreliable narrators can work - if we suddenly realize the truth at some key point in the book, or if they're really interesting people. But Molly just comes across as dreary and self-obsessed, and her self-consciously 'naughty' stories aren't all that good either. In the end, one questions just about everything in this book: is Tim a lunatic, and if so, why does Molly appear to believe him? Did Molly's father do anything other than be strict with her, and did she lie about the abuse to get attention? Why does Molly's mother dislike her daughter? Why would Miranda give Molly beautiful silken clothes to wear? What's Liz's obsession with erotica? Why does Miranda drop Molly so unexpectedly? Salway doesn't appear interested in answering any of these questions, and so all the novel consists of is a number of rambling encounters, which grow increasingly bizarre as the story progresses, a lot of repetition (how often do we need to be told about the glass bear Molly and Tim look at?) and an inconclusive weird ending. And I certainly agree with the reviewer who felt the arrival of Mrs Roberts (and Joan is not a French name!) was a massive anti-climax.

Somewhere in this book there is a good novel waiting to get out about the power of storytelling and how we invent stories to make us feel better about ourselves, and to give our lives meaning. But Molly Draper, self-obsessed and possibly destructive with it, is not the person to tell it. In the end this book felt like the work of someone who'd been on a lot of creative writing courses in which she'd learnt about narrative tricks and postmodernism, but wasn't really interested in engaging her reader.

A slow and on the whole unenjoyable read which never really went anywhere.
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on 27 September 2012
A young girl, Molly, lives in an ill-furnished room above a stationery shop. By day she works in the shop with a middle-aged man who insists on her climbing the ladder while he steadies her by holding her legs, and she tells him stories about her life at school and her best friend the beautiful Leeanne.

She appeared one day at a Christian-run café and Mr Roberts, the middle-aged man, was the only one who sat down at her table. At the time she was sobbing her heart out and had already been asked to move on by a café waitress. Gradually we learn more about Molly - she's terrified of her father and indeed has run away from home to get away from him. We never learn exactly what he's done, other than a playing a few rather macabre jokes on her. We do get the gist however, that Molly is perhaps a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Her boyfriend is a youth who approached her in the park (she always sits on the seat that commemorates a schoolgirl who committed suicide). He never wears socks and says he's a kind of consultant at first, then he intimates he is a secret agent.

You feel this gormless story might be approaching some kind of denouement when Mr Roberts' wife appears and decides to run the stationery business herself. She's much better at it. But it isn't a good enough event to make a difference to the reading experience. You kind-of feel sorry for Molly, but she is too naïve and suggestible. Her boyfriend is not much better and is, in fact, dragged off by his parents at one point, presumably to whatever institution he escaped from in the first place. I realised around halfway through this book that I wasn't enjoying it, but the writing was just good enough to suggest it might pick up. It doesn't however, and I read to the end with an increasing feeling of gloom. Not that anything much happened, but when I got to the last few pages I just read on as if suffering some kind of terrible lapse of will. Awful, awful, awful.
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on 6 October 2007
The cover is a worry. It looks like one of those gruesome real-life abuse tales called 'A Stolen Childhood', or 'Please Daddy, Don't' , something provocative like that. And at first it seems that this might be a fictional equivalent. Molly is a young runaway who has left home after creating a scandal at home. One afternoon she finds herself telling a teacher at school about her father, but the story runs away with her and after embellishing the truth she is surprised to see herself taken seriously and the huge consequences it has for her family. So this is not going to be a standard narrative. Molly is telling the tale of her own life and she is not a reliable narrator.

Molly is offered a job and a room by Mr Roberts, the owner of a stationary shop. There is one condition; that whilst she is at the top of the ladder arranging supplies on the top shelf she tell him stories about herself (whilst he peeps up her skirt). She becomes friends with Miranda who works in the salon. As Miranda primps and preens her they flatter one another with compliments about their film-star looks, 'Oh you!' they coo to each other. The local librarian Liz provides Molly with recommendations, starting with romance fantasies and eventually erotica. And then there is Tim, Molly's boyfriend, who seems to be someone very important, possibly even a spy. But as I said this is a novel about the tales we tell ourselves:

People can come from (and go to) nowhere. The homeless Molly Mr Roberts took home with him...was a monster he created himself with every question he asked...And that Molly was now a shared production. Miranda looked after my exterior appearance while, over in the library, Liz and her books were taking care of the inside thoughts. Even I had a part to play, reshaping my memories with every story I told Mr Roberts up that ladder...it was only when I was in the park with Tim that I had to think about being the real Molly.

But even from Tim she hides the past. The question of what really happened at home and the figure of Molly's father have a stalking presence in this novel which unsettles as the plot moves along. Molly is surrounded by people as damaged as her and the character of Tim is particularly unnerving with his tales of being able to 'hear' conversations through walls, his talk of training and missions. It is hardly surprising that Molly should have such a fractured ensemble around her but it is this I think which means the novel just fails to satisfy. There is very little foundation for this collection of tales to stand on. Salway is a prizewinning short story writer and clearly a talented writer. The fragile mental state of Molly is brilliantly evoked by the deluded conviction with which she speaks and the confusion she feels at the gaps in her memory. Where the novel works is as a story about storytelling, the ability we all have to create whatever narrative we need for different people and, in Molly's case, to survive. Like a modern day Scheherazade.
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on 5 September 2012
I rarely give 5 stars, but I couldn't put this book down. Weird and wonderful, the story hints at child abuse, but the perspective is innovative, sophisticated, yet simply told. A modern classic. Suzy Norman.
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on 15 March 2007
What a quirky, different story this is. Sarah Salway's story is so different from other more down-to-earth books that it feels like you've been picked up and whirled around dizzyingly at a height. It is a breath of fresh air amongst plodding stories that tell essentially the same story. With weird characters - who somehow seem familiar - and a serendipitous storyline, you never know what will happen next, but you want it to turn out well for them all none-the-less.

I haven't finished it yet, but wanted to put down what I thought as soon as possible. Now back to the book.
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