Top critical review
The Most Unreliable of Narrators
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.