All He Ever Wanted

Book: All He Ever Wanted

Author: Anita Shreve

Nicholas Van Tassel is a Professor of English Literature and Rhetoric at the Thrupp College, located in the small town of Thrupp in New England. Chance causes him to be dining at a local hotel when a fire occurs there, and he somehow gets involved in the rescue operations. That is how he finds Etna Bliss, another diner at the hotel, distraught by the fire. Nicholas finds Etna arresting, and helps her and her fellow diners get back home, winning their gratitude. He discovers that Etna is none other than the niece of William Bliss, one of his colleagues, another Professor at the Thrupp College. Etna occupies his mind, whole and sole, and he begins desperate attempts to woo her. One fine day, he proposes to her, only to be met by a refusal from Etna. Later, though, Etna agrees to a marriage with Nicholas, for reasons best known to her.

Anita Shreve’s All He Ever Wanted is the story of Nicholas and Etna’s marriage, as narrated by him in the course of a train journey, more than fifteen years later. He tells us about his and Etna’s life together, and the fateful day when things began to change forever between the both of them – for the worse.

I must say, I loved the writing style of the author. The story oscillates between the past and the present, narrated in the typical long-drawn-out, winding English appropriate of an English professor. The book held my interest till the end, and had me turning page after page in anticipation of what would happen next.

However, I was disappointed with the storyline. Nicholas is depicted as the ultimate MCP – it seems that ‘all he ever wanted’ was to possess his wife, for lack of a better word. He is so obsessed with Etna, stifling her so much that I wonder how the poor thing got along with her husband for as long as she did! None of the characters in the book are really likeable, except for Etna, that too just because of the strength she exhibited in the latter part of the book.

I grew more and more disgusted with Nicholas as I read on, and by the time I reached the end of it, I was ready to give him a lovely piece of my mind. But then, I guess, that is what the author intended. I should probably remember that the story is set in 1899 and the early 1900s, when women were probably treated the way Etna was by Nicholas. That doesn’t stop me from wishing he could have had psychiatric treatment on time, though. I couldn’t help but feel pity for Nicholas, too.

It is a book full of mystery, a bit disturbing as well. I didn’t particularly like the characters, but I would say it is a book that should be read, if only for the author’s writing style and because, sadly, sadists like Nicholas do still exist in real life. It raises some very valid issues too, which are surely worthy of a discussion. Oh, and you should read the book if you want to know how not to treat your wife, and how you should not marry.

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts about it?


10 thoughts on “All He Ever Wanted

  1. Haven’t read Anita Shreve yet. And ever since I saw the School of Rhetoric at Oxford University, I have been intrigued about how is this topic taught, or whether it can even be taught. I think I’ll pick up this book just to know what a professor of rhetoric is like πŸ™‚


  2. I haven’t read this,TGND. And I’m not sure if I will either. I picked up an Anita Shreve recently, but it wasn’t all that great. Have to pick up a good one next time, after checking the reviews.


    1. @Smitha

      I wasn’t particularly impressed with this one, either. However, I loved the author’s writing style, and have heard some great things about her books. I am, like you, going to pick up more of her books after thoroughly reading the reviews for them.


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