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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

All Those Things We Never Said

by
Marc Levy


general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase All Those Things We Never Said



Title: All Those Things We Never Said
Author: Marc Levy
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 396 pages
Original in: French
Availability: All Those Things We Never Said - US
All Those Things We Never Said - Canada
Toutes ces choses qu'on ne s'est pas dites - Canada
Toutes ces choses qu'on ne s'est pas dites - France
All die ungesagten Worte - Deutschland
Quello che non ci siamo detti - Italia
Las cosas que no nos dijimos - España
  • French title: Toutes ces choses qu'on ne s'est pas dites
  • Tranbslated by Chris Murray

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Our Assessment:

C+ : pseudo-romantic/nostalgic schlock, but does draw the reader in and along reasonably effectively

See our review for fuller assessment.




The complete review's Review:

       French author (though apparently long-time US resident) Marc Levy has long been one of the most popular writers in France, with well over a million copies of his books sold annually there alone. In English only his debut, If Only It Were True, has made much of a mark -- and that largely because it is the basis for the 2005 Reese Witherspoon vehicle, Just Like Heaven.
       Levy goes for those grand, soul-searching -- and entirely unbelievable -- premises to give his characters a second chance to confront, recognize, and embrace their true fates, and in All Those Things We Never Said he does not disappoint. Julia Walsh is all set to marry when she gets word that her estranged father, Anthony, has died, and on what was supposed to be her wedding day she attends his funeral instead. Shortly thereafter, she gets an even bigger surprise: a crate is delivered to her apartment, and in it she finds what she initially takes to be: "a perfect life-sized wax replica of Anthony Walsh". He's not wax, however; instead, he comes with a remote control, and when Julia presses the button, Anthony Walsh -- or at least the incredibly life-like battery-operated android that he explains he actually is -- comes to life.
       Yes, this Anthony Walsh-simulacrum explains that a few years earlier he had become a shareholder in a hi-tech company that was developing such machines, and this was the prototype: a machine containing his memory and otherwise identical to the human original, designed specifically for the purpose of giving loved ones a bit more time to spend with those they've lost after their deaths. They've limited the machine's lifespan -- the batteries run out in less than a week, so that people won't get too attached to the robots -- but for six days Julia can finally catch up with her dad and say ... all those things they never said. That's (presumably) the theory, anyway. (Yes, here's a company that has apparently developed such incredible technology, and this is the best they can do with it.)
       Julia objects: "This is ridiculous, not to mention technologically impossible !" she insists, and she's right, of course, but that can't stop Levy. Even with all its holes, the premise just seems too good to him for him to let it go .....
       Julia neither makes much of an effort to get to know her father any better, nor does she let in anyone else on her new secret -- neither her fiancé, Adam, nor her best friend, the homosexual Stanley (presented as such a 'flaming queer'- stereotype it's a surprise everything he comes into contact with doesn't instantly ignite). Dad drags Julia to Montreal, and soon enough they're headed to Europe (racking up more frequent flier miles in less than a week than most hardened business travelers could). Dad has the occasional revelation to make about Julia's mother -- who had died after losing her mind and memory to dementia -- and his love for her, but there's little progress in that father-daughter relationship.
       Nevertheless, the past is dredged up -- including Julia's escape to study in Europe back in 1989. Intending to study in Paris, she soon headed off with some new-found friends to Germany, catching the fall of the Berlin Wall just as it happened -- and falling head over heels in love with (East) German Thomas. Julia stayed in Berlin with her new-found love -- until dad came and forcibly dragged her home a few months later. Then came word that Thomas had died while on assignment (as a journalist) in Afghanistan .....
       Of course, this is a Levy novel, and as Anthony Walsh's resurrection already suggested, for Levy death isn't always what it's cracked up to be, much less permanent. Maybe Thomas is alive ? (Maybe he's a robot too ? the reader wonders; maybe everyone is a robot ... -- but that's too much to hope for .....)
       Yes, daddy wants to make sure that his little girl doesn't marry the wrong man. If there's a chance that Thomas (if he's still alive, in some form ...) is who she was fated to be with (because it's all about fate, always about fate), then shouldn't she have a proper chance to find out ?
       Of course, there are hurdles all along the way, but dad's a real fixer, and despite the far-flung locales and constant movement -- characters travel, or are on their way to, Rome ! Mogadishu ! Berlin ! New York ! and more -- and arduous path, true love surely readily conquers all, right ? Yes, Levy tries to maintain suspense -- throwing in a variety of obstacles and unhelpful associates, but fate has predetermined all outcomes and so there's nowhere for this book to go but to its painfully obvious conclusion.
       Levy is not without talent: yes, he relies almost entirely on relentless movement to keep the novel moving, but it's just enough to drag the reader along. Flashbacks to 1989, the occasional flaming-up eruption from Stanley, and a bit of suspense about whether the dad-machine will stand up to all the rigors help keep up some tension. Regrettably, Levy doesn't do relationships very well -- the most convincing one is Julia's with the most fake of all the characters, Stanley -- and neither her romantic entanglements, with either the completely sidelined Adam or teen-love Thomas (back in '89), nor her complicated relationship with her father are explored in any thorough or convincing way. There's far too much romance-novel-platitude here, and so the novel doesn't rise up above breezy schlock.
       The audacity of the premise -- dead dad is back, even if only as a machine, and only for the week -- is intriguing enough, but Levy does far too little with any aspect of it (indeed, even -- or especially: 'all those things we never said' remain largely unsaid even with this opportunity). The manipulations of the controlling father (Julia complains about him earlier in her life: "you were far too present. Just not in person"), and Julia's unwillingness to communicate in any meaningful way with those she is supposedly closest to (the various men in her life) also makes for two rather unsympathetic characters, in whose fates (inevitable as they are, in any case ...) the reader isn't deeply invested.
       All Those Things We Never Said isn't ridiculously bad, it's also not particularly good. The lightest of reads, readily disposable -- and certainly dispensable.

- M.A.Orthofer, 30 April 2013

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Links:

All Those Things We Never Said: Reviews: Marc Levy: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       Bestselling French author Marc Levy was born in 1961.

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© 2013 the complete review

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