Tell Me Everything
by Sarah Salway
The cover is a worry. It looks like one of those gruesome real-life abuse tales called 'A Stolen Childhood', or 'Please Daddy, Don't' , something provocative like that. And at first it seems that this might be a fictional equivalent. Molly is a young runaway who has left home after creating a scandal at home. One afternoon she finds herself telling a teacher at school about her father, but the story runs away with her and after embellishing the truth she is surprised to see herself taken seriously and the huge consequences it has for her family. So this is not going to be a standard narrative. Molly is telling the tale of her own life and she is not a reliable narrator.
Molly is offered a job and a room by Mr Roberts, the owner of a stationary shop. There is one condition; that whilst she is at the top of the ladder arranging supplies on the top shelf she tell him stories about herself (whilst he peeps up her skirt). She becomes friends with Miranda who works in the salon. As Miranda primps and preens her they flatter one another with compliments about their film-star looks, 'Oh you!' they coo to each other. The local librarian Liz provides Molly with recommendations, starting with romance fantasies and eventually erotica. And then there is Tim, Molly's boyfriend, who seems to be someone very important, possibly even a spy. But as I said this is a novel about the tales we tell ourselves:
People can come from (and go to) nowhere. The homeless Molly Mr Roberts took home with him...was a monster he created himself with every question he asked...And that Molly was now a shared production. Miranda looked after my exterior appearance while, over in the library, Liz and her books were taking care of the inside thoughts. Even I had a part to play, reshaping my memories with every story I told Mr Roberts up that ladder...it was only when I was in the park with Tim that I had to think about being the real Molly.
But even from Tim she hides the past. The question of what really happened at home and the figure of Molly's father have a stalking presence in this novel which unsettles as the plot moves along. Molly is surrounded by people as damaged as her and the character of Tim is particularly unnerving with his tales of being able to 'hear' conversations through walls, his talk of training and missions. It is hardly surprising that Molly should have such a fractured ensemble around her but it is this I think which means the novel just fails to satisfy. There is very little foundation for this collection of tales to stand on. Salway is a prizewinning short story writer and clearly a talented writer. The fragile mental state of Molly is brilliantly evoked by the deluded conviction with which she speaks and the confusion she feels at the gaps in her memory. Where the novel works is as a story about storytelling, the ability we all have to create whatever narrative we need for different people and, in Molly's case, to survive. Like a modern day Scheherazade.