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Everything and Nothing - Araminta Hall
Member Name: jo1976
Everything and Nothing - Araminta Hall
Date: 22/07/12, updated on 23/09/13 (70 review reads)
Advantages: Well written, engrossing and thought provoking
Disadvantages: Not a thriller as described, lacklustre ending
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.
Summary: A thought provoking read but not a thriller