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A L Kennedy: Everything You Need

Kennedy’s characters don’t have it easy. At the start of this novel, Nathan Staples imagines nasty ways of being tortured to death and then tries, unsuccessfully, to hang himself. Nathan is a writer who is the chairman of a small (six, soon to be seven) literary fellowship on a small island, Foal Island off the coast of Wales. Some fifteen years ago, his wife, Maura, whom he still loves, walked out on him, taking their four-year old daughter, Mary. Maura had found Nathan’s obsession with writing and becoming a writer too much for her. She took Mary to her brother, Bryn, in Gofeg, a small village in Wales. Bryn lives with his male lover, Morgan. Maura soon had enough and moved on, leaving Mary to be brought up by Bryn and Morgan (the uncles, as she and others call them) and a very good job they did. However, Mary wants to be a writer and applies for and is accepted for a fellowship on Foal Island, thanks to the intervention of Nathan. She does not know – and will not know – that Nathan is her father.

Much of the relatively long novel is how Nathan mentors and assists Mary in becoming a writer but also how he becomes the father to her that he was not when she was younger. It is, of course, a struggle. Firstly, there is the shadow of death hanging over the community. One character dies and two nearly do (as does the dog). On the mainland, a boy is murdered and the perpetrator is never found. The two uncles and Nathan’s best friend and editor also die. Death, of course, is inevitable but Kennedy makes a big thing of all deaths and near-deaths, as if to remind her characters and us that it is never far away. Yet, despite these deaths, despite the problems – personal ones, in general – that the writers have, Nathan and Mary pull through, more or less. Indeed, Kennedy, as she has done in her previous novels, makes the point that it is hard, it will be difficult and painful, but, ultimately, we will pull through.

As for writers, she does not have much good to say about them. The London-based ones are brutally satirised while the ones on the island are social misfits, at best (with the exception of Mary), and struggle more with their lives than they do with their writing. Kennedy is not going to give us a free or even easy ride, as she piles it on, but she does write well and does tell the tale, a difficult account of communication and, in the long run, love, in a convincing manner.

Publishing history

First published 1999 by Jonathan Cape