I read Everything About You recently for my book club – but it was a title I’d put in our jar [we put suggestions of what to read in a jar, and each month we choose a new one] after being gifted a copy from Orbit Books through the Swansea Blogger Collective.
It’s fair to say it had a very mixed reception in the group; personally, I always think these are the best kinds of books for creating a lively discussion.
Now, I quite enjoyed Everything About You – I’ve given it four stars – but unfortunately other reactions in the group ranged from feeling ambivalent about it (‘It was ok I guess‘) to actively disliking it and DNF’ing it.
I have some theories here.
This book is marketed as something like a Black Mirror-esque thriller. The teaser on the back of the hard back exclaims:
Discover this year’s most cutting-edge thriller – before it discovers you.
The cover is quite striking, in a dark and Matrix-like way, and I thought the woman looked somewhat vulnerable.
Although these elements, to a certain degree, were in place, this story was not the edge-of-your-seat, high-jeopardy psychological thriller we were led to believe it was.
I was relieved. I hate those things. Therefore I enjoyed it. My mostly thriller-loving fellow book clubbers – not so much.
Admittedly, it took me a little bit to get into the story because of the tense; it’s third person present tense, with quite a few flips into past tense as something from the protagonist’s past is related. Although difficult at first to get used to, this third person narrative did give a sense of the voyeuristic, of being intrusive; paired with the immediacy of present tense, it really put me in mind of social media and being told what all your friends are doing right now this minute look here.
So having consolidated myself to the tense, I was able to enjoy all the other clever little quirks to this book. The story is set in the near future, and I really enjoyed how Child projected our current society and tech use into her own future. Little things, like adjustments to language – “I really rated it/it’s rated” instead of “I really liked it/it’s great” – cemented this world in my mind and made it believable. Likewise the character development was so subtle – some of the members of my book group argued the characters were flat, but I disagree. I felt like I had a good sense of Freya, and I really picked up on not just the changes in her as the story progressed, but those in her friend Chris also. It was that kind of second-hand awareness, like noticing a friend is posting a lot of pictures of hillsides lately so maybe they’ve taken up hiking…
I enjoyed the plot, but again I think this was more of a story about a girl coming to terms with loss and battling through a mental health crisis, rather than a mystery or a thriller. There is an element of mystery, there is a drive to discover what happened to someone, Freya is motivated by this belief; but it just didn’t feel like the all-consuming star of the show that this kind of thing usually is in thriller books. I was quite surprised when the story took a Ready Player One kind of turn
My one criticism of this book was that it sometimes felt like the author got a little carried away by the tech. I can absolutely see the representation of how technology is becoming more and more integrated into everything we do, and how having such a heavy focus on it here mirrored that growing obsessive need. There were some moments that really made you stop and think, for example the way Freya’s glasses modified what she saw and hid homeless people from view. Or the magnificent metaphor of her damp and mouldy walls (I don’t want to go into that one further, because it might faintly spoil something, but again it was this notion of what we’re using technology to plaster over and hide.) However, by the time I got to the end of the book, it felt like the plot was secondary to the various different bits of technology. Like a sci-fi novel of old, written to explore a scientific theory, the focus felt more on the various gadgets and apps and their influence on the characters. I think it was because of this, that the final resolution lacked the punch you would normally expect to get.
Like I said, this was my only criticism, albeit it was a major criticism for the other members of my group. It certainly made me think about our current dependency on the internet and social media, how easily things are accessible for us. The following really resonated with me:
All her life she has been able to tap into a larger brain and become a momentary expert on any subject… A piece of information being out of reach is more than unthinkable; it is maddening.
In short, Everything About You was insidious and thought provoking!