Tell Me Everything by Sarah Salway is an intense character-driven novel centering on an unhappy, overweight young woman, Molly Drayton, who lives alone above a shop owned by the elderly Mr. Roberts. He offers the one-bedroom apartment in exchange for working for him in the shop and telling him stories.
Molly has a secret, something she once told her biology teacher that had to do with her father's behavior. Since that day, Molly's father has disappeared, and Molly's mother will have nothing to do with her. Molly learned that day the power of her stories. Everything started on that day with her biology teacher, a secret story not revealed until the end but hinted at throughout the novel, and this alone gives the reader a somewhat unsettled feeling about her.
One of Molly’s tasks at the stationery store is to rearrange books and other things on the upper shelves, forcing her to climb up the tall ladder while Mr. Roberts stands below her, holding on to her large legs. She learns that he is looking for some excitement and begins to embellish stories of her own life with outrageous additions to titillate him. She is rewarded now and then with some cash under the table and the knowledge that she has pleased her boss. The more she tells, the more powerful she begins to feel, and the reader will notice a metamorphosis taking place inside of her.
Molly isn't the only one living under false pretenses. She gains a boyfriend, Tim, who is a bit on the loony side, and one wonders if he is mentally ill. He tells Molly he is a secret agent, and of course Molly believes him (or wants to believe him). He shows her how to listen to the walls of buildings, which would allow her to hear words and phrases coming from other parts of town. She truly believes him and shows him that she, too, can be good at it, as she also tries to imitate other “skills” he demonstrates for her, such as walking in a secretive manner. It doesn’t seem to enter her mind that Tim may be making this all up. All she wants to do is be loved by Tim and to be part of a couple.
It’s obvious there is something wrong when he limits their relationship to meetings at a park bench dedicated to a girl who committed suicide a few years ago. Molly tells him stories about the girl (claiming at first that they were good friends) and often goes to the bench alone to talk to the deceased girl. While their meetings at the bench are awkward and oftentimes strange, throughout the book Molly hints to Tim that they should go to the bar for a few drinks, hoping to feel normal by bringing a boyfriend where others socialize on a daily basis. But he constantly refuses (almost to the point where the thought of going to a public place fills him with paranoia), saying they can only meet at the bench. Molly doesn’t question his behavior but yearns to be what she thinks is normal, and hopes that eventually her relationship with Tim advances to a point where she can be seen with him in public.
Other friends include the librarian Liz, whom Molly sees as a mother figure, and Miranda, the hair stylist who also has weight problems. Molly starts out very overweight, but the longer she works at the stationery store, the thinner she becomes. The reader will notice that as Molly changes physically, she also changes emotionally, her stories for Mr. Roberts becoming bolder her relationships with Miranda and Liz fall apart. But the bottom line is Molly's stories, where truth and fiction begin to blend into one. One isn't quite sure anymore what is truth and what is Molly’s fabrications, and whether to feel sorry for Molly or be appalled by her behavior. It seemed that lies are what make up her life, and she doesn’t know any other way to act.
Tell Me Everything is a fascinating tale of a woman and her need to be accepted and loved. What makes this novel stand out is that there aren't any characters that the reader will feel sympathetic to, especially Molly. Sarah Salway creates her characters in great detail, characters by which the reader may feel repulsed or simply dislike. I hadn’t read a book in quite a while where I actually wasn’t sure whether to feel shocked by the main character or be angry with her. Molly gave me the creeps at times, making me wonder what really motivated her. It all goes back to her stories about her father, and what she told her biology teacher. I will definitely read more by Sarah Salway. Tell Me Everything will definitely be on my list of top books read in 2007.