Everything You Know by Zoe Heller

Zoe Heller was born in London, England in 1965 and educated at Oxford University, UK and Columbia University, New York, USA. She is a journalist who, after writing book reviews for various newspapers, became a feature writer for The Independent in England. She wrote a weekly confessional column for the Sunday Times in London for four years, but now writes for the Daily Telegraph in London and earned the title ‘Columnist of the Year’ in 2002.

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A suspected murderer and a confirmed hack is the protagonist of Everything You Know.  Willy has no evident sense of shame.   The reader learns that Willy went to prison for killing his wife years ago.  He was released on appeal but alienated his remaining friends by writing a memoir of his married life.  He then progresses to churning out poor quality biographies of celebrities.

He does not seem upset by the suicide of his daughter, Sadie, by using pills and is grotesquely rude to his own mother.  Willy takes his rage out on everyone around him, including himself.  Happily, debut novelist Zoe Heller has something larger in mind than the spectacle of a man savaging everything in reach: thankfully, the book undergoes a shift in tone midway through or I doubt I would have finished it.

ImageSadie’s diary, delivered to Willy’s door four months after her death.  it is written in a style as straightforward and affecting as Willy is blustering and cruel.  The diary describes a lonely childhood and an adult life ruled by an unsuccessful search for love.

Initially, Willy cannot read the diary without feeling terrible.  Later, however, the diary elicits in him a kind of moral thaw.  Willy begins to indulge in some cynical generousity of spirit.   Still, he cannot find it in himself to change completely.  Even at the very end, he cannot help being insulting about his former sister-in-law.

I found the beginning of this novel difficult to wade through.  However, I am glad I persevered.  I was surprised that I never stopped caring about Willy, no matter how repulsive he is.  That is a sign of the real skill of the writer.  Everything You Know is a sharp, stylish, and, in parts, very funny novel, but like its hero,there is no denying the real sadness concealed underneath the surface.

Valerie Penny

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