THE WHOLE WORLD by Emily Winslow

Book Quote:

“I take words at face value. Gretchen had said she wanted to know everything. I don’t do well overriding what people say about themselves. I don’t put body language and tone of voice over words themselves. I should, I know that now.”

Book Review:

Review by Lynn Harnett (SEP 27, 2010)

An American living in Cambridge, England, Winslow sets her first novel of psychological suspense at Cambridge and tells it through five successive narrators, each harboring secrets.

Polly, a New Hampshire girl, opens things up. She and a British student, Nick, have a romantic encounter, which she violently rejects, although she’s clearly thrilled at the same time.

“There was this line. I wanted to be on one side of it. I tried to stay there and haul him back. But he couldn’t see the line. All he knew was that I was still leaning into him. He kissed me all down my neck, and then lower, down into where my shirt was open from the first two buttons. It made me crazy, in a good way, and it made me angry, which was strange.”

Polly ends the encounter by throwing up in a trashcan beside Nick’s desk. Before she can see him again, and possibly explain, Nick disappears, soon becoming a face on posters scattered around town.

Polly’s story then drops back to earlier in the term, when she was new in Cambridge. She hungrily befriends Liv, an outgoing California girl. “I met her my first week. It wasn’t the way she talked that gave away her nationality. She hadn’t even spoken yet. It was that she sat cross-legged on the floor in a public place. British people don’t do that.”

Together they meet Nick and the three go everywhere together, including pitching in to help Liv with her job sorting pictures for a blind professor. Gretchen Paul, the daughter of an author who gave up writing to concentrate on motherhood, plans to write a book about her once-famous mother. But the history recounted in the photos doesn’t always accord with Gretchen’s memories.

Each of these four gets a turn, plus Morris, a cop with an academically distinguished brother (Nick’s adviser), a middling marriage, and a job that consumes him. Each of these sections casts a new light on events – echoes of the famous Kurosawa movie Rashomon, showing how perception of events differs from individual viewpoints.

This idea engages Winslow, though her characters diverge from their common history, giving us more puzzle pieces as the story advances and revealing family secrets that impel each of them. Winslow exposes bits of these secrets as the plot advances, maintaining suspense as she goes and building to a final, dramatic crisis.

The author’s characters ring true: her undergraduates’ self-absorption, insecurity and penchant for drama keeps the reader guessing as to whether they are psychopaths or just kids. The later-in-life disappointments and posturing of the professor, her husband and the cop make for a solid counterpoint.

Winslow draws the reader into her ideas as well as her story and characters, integrating the elements into an absorbing whole complete in all its parts.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 9 readers
PUBLISHER: Delacorte Press; 1 edition (May 25, 2010)
REVIEWER: Lynn Harnett
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Another one of those books that is surprising good:

No One Tells Everything by Rae Meadows


September 27, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags:  · Posted in: Mystery/Suspense, United Kingdom

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