Everything You Know – Zoe Heller

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Everything You Know

Five words from the blurb: women, daughter, suicide, diaries, lonely

I loved Notes on a Scandal, but couldn’t finish The Believers and so was interested to see what I’d make of Zoe Heller’s debut novel, Everything You Know.

The book focuses on Willy, a bitter man recovering from a heart attack. His youngest daughter has just committed suicide and he is struggling to cope with the other relationships in his life. The book explores his emotions as he attempts to put his life back on track.

Willy is a unlikable character who is impossible to warm to. As I read about his opinions and actions I frequently wanted to slap him, but despite these problems I was impressed by the realistic honesty of his words:

Sophie has always intimidated me. I was awkward around both of my daughters – embarrassed by their little pink bodies, appalled by their pukings and snottings, convinced that if they cuddled too close I would get an erection – but I was especially nervous of Sophie. She was by anyone’s standards, a daunting child – creepily self-possessed and knowing about adult matters.

There were some fantastic pieces of writing, peppered with emotion and insight, but the structure of the book didn’t work for me. At less than 200 pages this should have been a fast read, but it was frequently a chore – it didn’t flow very well and there was no forward momentum.

It was interesting to see how Heller’s writing developed over the three books, but apart from that this book had little appeal. I like my books to have more plot and less bitterness.

Recommended to anyone interested in the thoughts of a grumpy old man.


  


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30 Comments

  1. Laura T says:

    Although I loved Notes on a Scandal and The Believers, I completely agree with you about this one – I found it very depressing and my copy went directly to second-hand! (Love the last line of your review as well)

    1. Jackie says:

      Laura, It is good to know I’m not alone in my thoughts on this one. My copy is straight off to the charity shop too!

  2. Stephanie says:

    I’ll be skipping this one. It’s too bad, because Notes on a Scandal was wonderful. I am still a little scared to pick up The Believers because some of the reviews seem pretty negative.

    1. Jackie says:

      Stephanie, The Believers is the best written of her books, but it had horrible characters and was packed with religious/political debate. It depends what you like in a book….

  3. Steph says:

    I have loved everything I’ve read by Heller, though I agree that Notes on a Scandal is by far her crown jewel, so I would really like to find a copy of this and read it, just because I’m sure I’d find it interesting. I think Heller is such a strong writer, I would really like to try everything she’s written!

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I think you’ll enjoy this more than I did. I’m sure you’ll appreciate a lot of the observational stuff, but the structure of the book needs improving. I look forward to your thoughts.

  4. I also really enjoyed Notes on a Scandal, but I haven’t read her other books. I can’t say you’ve helped that, but I am always curious to see what she’ll write next.

    1. Jackie says:

      Carrie, Despite not enjoying 2/3 of her books I’m still keen to see what she comes up with next – she is a very talented writer :-)

  5. Sandy says:

    I’ve not read anything she has written (although I have The Believers on my shelf), but my observation would be that she is all about making her readers uncomfortable. There are no sacred cows with her I don’t think. From that snippet you provided, I was already cringing. Ugh.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, Yes – she isn’t scared to delve into the darker sections of society. I like it when characters have some redeeming qualities, but the people in this book are just horrible. I can see why some people love to hate them, but it isn’t my sort of thing.

  6. FleurFisher says:

    I liked Notes on a Scandal but I didn’t take to this one either, so I haven’t been inclined to pick up the Believers.

    1. Jackie says:

      FleurFisher, The Believers is like a better written, more political version of this one, so if you didn’t enjoy Everything You Know then I’d avoid The Believers.

  7. I liked Notes on a Scandal (it was a book group book a long time ago), but haven’t read anything else by Heller. It looks like you’re finished with her!

    1. Jackie says:

      Judith, I wouldn’t say I’m finished – just up to date ;-) Her writing is good enough to encourage me to sample everything she writes :-)

  8. Jenners says:

    I think I’d rather try Notes On A Scandal than this one!

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, Yes do :-) and the film is very good too!

  9. Mystica says:

    Thanks for an honest review and I like your last line

    1. Jackie says:

      Mystica, Make that a very grumpy, sour, charmless man ;-)

  10. Amused says:

    I liked Notes on a Scandal too and sometimes Grumpy Old Men crack me up so I might like this one too.

    1. Jackie says:

      Amused, If you like grumpy old men then I’m sure you’ll enjoy certain sections of this book. I’d be interested to know your thoughts on it as a whole…

  11. Leela Soma says:

    I liked ‘Notes on a Scandal’ a brilliant novel. Not sure If I ‘d bother with this one after reading your review. Grumpy old men is okay, I prefer grumpy old women as I can relate to some of their gripes. Thanks for an good review.

    1. Jackie says:

      Leela, I can see how grumpy old women might work, but I think I might have to be a bit older to appreicate that. Perhaps I should start with grumpy young women?

  12. stujallen says:

    I ve not tried heller and this doesn’t inspire me to try her Jackie ,all the best stu

    1. Jackie says:

      Stu, I recommend watching Notes on a Scandal. I can’t imagine you liking the book, but I think the film will keep you entertained for a few hours. :-)

  13. Louise says:

    Oh no, I’ve not read any Heller before but this one appealed to me so is sitting in my to-be-read pile. Still it’s a big pile, maybe I’ll knock it down the list a little….

    1. Jackie says:

      Louise, Sometimes it is good to make the TBR pile a little shorter ;-)

  14. Kailana says:

    I have always been curious about this author. I think I will stick with Notes on a Scandal when I do read…

    1. Jackie says:

      Kailana, I think you’ll enjoy Notes on a Scandal – it is such a gripping read!

  15. Hmm, thoughts of a grumpy old man… I think I might pass. Loved Notes on a Scandal, and haven’t read anything else by Heller, as the blurbs at the back of the book haven’t really caught my eye. It’s always been like, “yeah, ok, but I’d rather read…”

    Glad to see I haven’t missed out!

    1. Jackie says:

      anothercookiecrumbles, The blurbs didn’t attract me either, but I’m always curious when it comes to an author of a book I’ve loved. I really should learn to listen to my head sometimes!

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