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This book is more of a psychological suspense thriller, than a horror, but no less scary for it. It is the tale of a young girl, Aggie, who secures a job as a nanny for the two children of Ruth & Christian, a couple with their fair share of problems.
Ruth & Christian are a hard working couple and need the help of a nanny in order to continue being, but Ruith struggles with feelings of guilt at choosing to work so hard whilst she has young children and because she feels she should be able to do it all and Christian struggles with his own feelings of guilt for other reasons. Aggie enters their home like a breath of fresh air and brings a sense of calm to the household, the children love her and Ruth & Christian initially feel that she is worth her weight in gold. However, as things become more fraught for the couple cracks also begin to show in their relationship with Aggie and we then start to learn more about Aggie's own secrets, her own emotional turmoil and the possibility that she has some sort of hidden agenda.
Some of the subject matter is uncomfortable reading but this is not a far fetched tale, which makes it even more scary, to think that this sort of thing could really happen. The story has a slight 'Hand That Rocks The Cradle' feel about it and is menacing and unsettling throughout.
I read Everything and Nothing by Araminta Hall as part of my book group reading for August 2012. As I downloaded it straight from my Kindle I did not read any of the publishing blurb and so new nothing of its reputation, classification of story or the author. The underlying story is of a nanny coming to a house of a family where the parents are struggling both as parents and as people. She becomes more and more attached to one of the children.
This was not a pleasant read for me for a number of reasons. Firstly the writing style was slight odd. There seemed to be a lot of unnecessary description of what seemed like trivial detail, for example the stained glass in the door of the house. This for me took away from the pace of the story and seemed to have little connection to it. Secondly was the underlying misery of the adults in the story, especially the wife Ruth who is struggling to cope with being a working mum. As a struggling working mum myself I felt no empathy for her and instead found myself resenting having to read about someone else's struggles.
Reflecting back on the title, I can see that it refers to a number of different themes in the book. For example the difference between what the wife Ruth has and the nanny Aggie or the change in importance of some events in the life's of the characters over the novel. This feels a bit laboured to me.
After finishing the story, I then read more about the book on Amazon. It's described as a thriller where the tension builds to a climax. While the story does have a climax, I would never describe it as a thriller and I did not feel the build-up of tension leading to this at all, just more stumbling through misery leading to an inevitable event. The book is the author's first novel and I believe this explains some of the over descriptive pieces in the text as she is still working to find her writing style.
I would not recommend this book. While there is a readable story on there, I was too lost in the misery of their lives to enjoy it.
Everything and Nothing by Araminta Hall has to be the strangest book that I've read in years, if ever. It was interesting, the characters were there - in fact all three main characters are totally mental which makes for great reading, but somehow the plot was lacking. Hopefully by writing this review I will be able to explain what I mean.
Ruth and Christian are an ordinary family - they have two children, Betty and Hal. Ruth and Christian have grown to practically hate each other, they argue over everything, they don't talk to each other or show affection, and a while back Christian had an affair with Sarah, someone he worked with. Ruth forgave him, partly because she was due to give birth to Hal in a few weeks and she sees herself as weak.
After Hal was born, Ruth suffered some kind of breakdown, and decided that the only way to get out of it was to go back to work. Both of them have good jobs, on good money and it was argued they could easily live on one salary. Instead they both work, and thus need a nanny.
Step forward, Agatha, or Aggie as she let the family call her because " it sounds friendlier." Aggie is very messed up, she was abused when she was young and left home at the age of 16. As you can imagine, these things from her past come back not only to haunt her but also her new employers as well.
Aggie for the most part of the book is every parents dream. She looks after the children well, they like her, she is a good cook, she cleans, she takes them out, she's fun and she is helpful. However, the saying clearly rings a bell here " if something sounds too good to be true then it probably is!" and this is true with Aggie. At first she can hide her hidden anxiety about wanting to take Hal but towards the end she finds it difficult to deal even with Ruth and Christian, as she finds them both a couple of idiots.
Ruth is very fragile in my opinion as she tries to juggle her priorities, wants and needs but also the expectations of others. She feels she needs Christian but from reading the book I'm not sure she loves him - he is all she has ever known and deep down I think she wants to start afresh but she isn't stupid and realizes she has two young children to look after. Other times however, you think what an awful mother as she doesn't seem to want them or care. I suppose she is having some kind of renewed breakdown but is too proud to ask for help. The only person she tries to seek comfort from is Christian but they seem to be too busy arguing to worry about comfort.
Christian on the other hand doesn't seem to feel as much as his wife. He seems childlike. His friend even said that he thinks he has some autistic traits as he doesn't think about where other people are coming from. That said he does seem to care for his children very much, and Ruth too but in his own little way.
I guess the thing that struck me most about this book, which was written very well, was if you spend all your time concentrating on what is behind you, like Ruth and Christian over the affair, then you will never be able to see what is in front of you, as in Aggie taking Hal. A good read, but not thoroughly thrilling.
I was fortunate enough to receive a free copy of Araminta Hall's 'Everything and Nothing', thanks to the online book club on Mumsnet. The book has been well publicised and was chosen as one of the Richard and Judy book club reads, giving me high expectations.
'Everything and Nothing' features a supposedly 'ordinary working couple with two kids' who hire a nanny, Aggie, to help them to manage their family and increasingly chaotic life. The premise is something that is familiar to many working parents, including mothers like myself, who are forced to juggle work and family demands and need to use paid childcare at times.
I was intrigued to see how Aggie's character would develop, particularly as the reader is shown from the very outset of the novel that Aggie is clearly not who or what she is claiming to be, leading me to question her motives from the start. Ruth and Christian, the parents, are portrayed as struggling and chaotic and provide a clear contrast to Aggie's very controlled, if unsettling and unnerving, quiet determination and efficiency.
Reading the blurb on the back of the book, left me anticipating a slow-burning thriller, with the promise of a 'mesmerising climax', according to one of the many positive quotes and accolodes featured. Indeed, the opening scenes are set very well and I began reading in eager anticipation of the disturbing twists and turns that I expected to folllow.
Unfortunately, I found the description on the back and the book's labelling as a thriller to be more than a little misleading. This is a fantastic and engrossing read, make no mistake, but this is not what I would describe as a thriller at all. Instead, what Araminta Hall has created (and has done so very well) is a really thought-provoking book which explores the concept of parenting in modern life.
The two female protagonists, Ruth and Aggie, initially appear to be total opposites in terms of personality but, what struck me as I became engrossed in the unfolding story, is how alike they actually were. One of the most interesting aspects of this story is how it gradually challenges the automatic assumption that the parents are the best placed to make good decisions about their children's care. Both Aggie and Ruth fundamentally believed that they were acting in the children's best interests and their actions were, for the most part, well intentioned. At the same time, both parties had serious unaddressed emotional issues from their past which were clouding their judgements and preventing them from acting rationally at times.
Despite the initial introduction of Aggie as a character who was lying from the off and was, therefore, inherently untrustworthy and malevolent, I found my sympathies lying with her more and more as the story went on, as Aggie seemed to be making the better judgements about the children's well-being. This was an uncomfortable position at times as my natural instinct was to side with the parents, particularly as I could relate to Ruth's position and her feelings as a parent myself. There were certain episodes that rang true to me as I could picture myself struggling to cope with two tired and emotional youngsters on the tube and then being belittled by a patronising and unhelpful health professional. I could also empathise with Ruth's feelings of inadequacy at times, especially that belief that other parents seem to be managing so much better than she can. Ruth's confidence is further undermined by her nanny's confidence and efficiency, although the reader is given hints throughout the story that all is not as it appears as far as Aggie is concerned.
It is fairly fitting that I have given little attention to the husband, Christian, here as, although he is a main character, his role is fairly insubstantial and he is presented as quite a weak, almost childlike man who hasn't fully accepted his responsibilites in life. His actions do serve to bring about or precipitate some of the tragedies in the book but, for the most part, it is the female characters who bring this story to life and who I was really rooting for.
The only disappointment as far as the story is concerned is that I was awaiting this supposed great climax which never actually materialised. The story seemed to be building gradually towards a major storyline with some anticipated showdown or some unexpected twist. Instead I found that the tension gradually built up and up, but that the ending fizzled out, rather than going out with a bang. The story was quite neatly resolved but I was left feeling slightly cheated that the author had taken the easy way out in some respects and this could have been so much better.
Despite the somewhat lacklustre ending, this book was an intriguing and challenging read in many ways and one that I would be interested in re-reading, with the benefit of hindsight. I would recommend it to any parents and would be interested to see if other readers find their allegiances switch between the two main characters as the story progresses. This is certainly an unusual, disturbing and fascinating account of modern family life.