Everything You Need by A.L. Kennedy

I read her Looking For The Possible Dance several months ago, and liked it enough that I bought some more by her, but I wasn’t expecting to be anything like as impressed by this tremendous novel.

It’s a simple enough story: a writer who hasn’t seen his daughter since she was a toddler contrives to get the 18 year old onto the writers’ retreat island he’s on – without revealing his identity. The story follows their developing relationship, with the one real plot point being when/whether he will tell her he’s her father.

So it’s hardly a thrilling tale, but the greatness is in the telling, and two particular aspects thereof. I’m not a huge fan of conventional, realistic, psychological fiction these days – I think it’s mostly become a dull mode, that it looks like a dead end, even that it’s misguided and pointless. A book like this makes me reconsider – the strength and subtlety and depth of her exploration of her two leads’ (especially the father’s) feelings is very compelling and moving. Maybe this wouldn’t work so well, maybe it wouldn’t even be possible, if she were not a fabulous writer of prose, sentences that consistently feel fresh and right, as if she’s found a new way to say something not out of a quest for novelty and pyrotechnics, but because it’s the exact best way to say what she is wanting to convey. It’s full of figures and touches that feel so right, so perfect, and that say so much. I can’t think of the last mainstream literary novel produced in the UK that has impressed me so much, that I’ve felt so captivated by. I think this is probably a genuinely great book.