Everything You Know

Everything You Know

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by Zoe Heller

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Willy Muller is an embittered writer of celebrity bios and an equal-opportunity misanthrope. At fifty, he has survived imprisonment for murdering his wife, years of venomous hate mail from the British public and, most recently, the suicide of his daughter Sadie. Willy needs a break, but he's not going to get it. While recuperating from a heart attack in a Mexican


Willy Muller is an embittered writer of celebrity bios and an equal-opportunity misanthrope. At fifty, he has survived imprisonment for murdering his wife, years of venomous hate mail from the British public and, most recently, the suicide of his daughter Sadie. Willy needs a break, but he's not going to get it. While recuperating from a heart attack in a Mexican resort with his magnificently silly girlfriend Penny and his vodka-drenched friend Harry, Willy finds himself drawn into a troubling confrontation with the past. As he becomes engrossed in Sadie's tragic diaries, he reluctantly considers his chaotic family history and the notion that "only when you die do you run out of chances to be good."

With her scathing wit and brilliant ear for dialogue, Zoë Heller has created a darkly humorous story of love and loathing, sex and death, and filial relations gone horribly awry. Acidly funny and deeply affecting, Everything You Know marks the debut of a brilliant and immensely stylish young writer.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This debut novel offers a bleak portrait of an Englishman named Willy Muller who is convicted of killing his alcoholic wife and whose memoir of the event makes him notorious. After his release from prison, Willy begins a series of ghost-writing jobs in Los Angeles, where he follows a maudlin, self-depreciating life style that results in a heart attack. While recuperating, he reads the journal of daughter Sadie, one of his two children, who was abandoned as a child and who as an adult committed suicide. Eventually, Willy comes to understand his own responsibility for the abject neglect that blighted his daughters' lives and seems determined to make amends by getting involved in the life of Sadie's illegitimate daughter. The plot is choppy and the characters are shallowly developed, with little to endear them to the reader. Willy's final contrition seems dramatically out of character and simply a narrative device to tie together a dreary tale of modern squalor. Not recommended for most collections.--David A. Beron , Univ. of New Hampshire, Durham Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
“A smashing success. Wickedly funny, lively and ultimately moving.”

“Acerbic, sneakily touching . . . an assiduously sentimental novelist, but she knows where the heartstrings are if she needs them.”
The New York Times Book Review

“At once biting and sly, hilarious and haunting. A blazingly good debut.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Delightfully black-hearted. . . . Not since Flannery O’Connor has a woman writer come along who seems to so thoroughly understand the greasy inner cogs of the male psyche, especially where matters of sex are concerned.”
The Baltimore Sun

“Instantly ranks her among the most interesting and exiting of British writers.”
— Will Self

Product Details

Viking Penguin
Publication date:

Read an Excerpt

Sophie has always intimidated me. I was awkward around both of my daughters -- embarrassed by their little pink bodies, appalled by their pukings and snottings, convinced that if they cuddled too close to me I would get an erection -- but I was especially nervous of Sophie. She was, by anyone's standards, a daunting child -- creepily self-possessed and knowing about adult matters. When she was four she asked me, with a dour little face, if I loved "lots of ladies" or "just Mummy." Much later on, when she was found out doing unpleasant things at Margaret's, people blamed it on me -- the traumas I had inflicted on her. But the truth is, Sophie's oddness predated all that and was entirely her own.

By the age of seven, she was talking about sex non-stop -- not the giggly scatalogical references that one might have expected from a child of that age, but unsmiling, rather bleak observations on desire. "You want to make love to her, don't you?" she once remarked to one of our dinner-party guests as he was eyeing a bosomy young woman across the table. "You would like to roll and roll and roll in bed with her, wouldn't you?" We pretended to be amused by all this, Oona and I. We had an idea that we were both worldly people -- that this little de Sade in kneesocks who had sprung up in our midst was proof of what a broad-minded household we ran. "What is that meant to be?" Oona would ask briskly when presented with one of Sophie's pornographic, kindergarten scrawls. (Oona always spoke to the children in the military, C.L.A.P. mode -- Clear, Loudly, As an order, with Pauses.) "A vagina? Well, it's a rather feeble vagina, darling. Where are the labia?" But we were not worldly people. Sexwhen we were growing up had been a vast, smutty enigma -- an enigma whose depths we were still not entirely certain of having plumbed. Sophie frightened both of us.

Soon after she started secondary school, some classmates of Sophie's spray-painted the front garden wall of our house with the words sophie lives here. ring the bell. ú5 a screw. Oona immediately called the school to complain. I made (empty) threats to go and find the boys and give them a good kicking. And Sophie? She giggled softly and wandered out of the living room, leaving us to rant. When I went to look for her a little later, I found her out in the street, calmly emending the graffito with a stick of chalk. She was adding two zeroes to the ú5.

* * * * * * * * *

To occupy my arid hospital days, I have been watching a fair amount of television and sleeping a great deal. I have also been reading Sadie's journals. This was not my original intention. When I first got to hospital, I instructed Penny to get rid of them -- wrap them up and send them on to Monika in London. Baby Pearl could be given the tchotchkes when she was old enough, I thought. And as for the scribblings, Monika could do what she liked with them. I was furious, to tell the truth -- repulsed by the whole manipulative, TV mini-seriesness of the situation. If this was my daughter reaching out from the grave to mess with my conscience, I was having none of it.

But then, after Penny had gone off, I was stricken with doubt. Perhaps Sadie had included a message for me somewhere in the legal pads. Perhaps she had even enclosed a letter. I had not inspected the package very carefully, after all. Such, presumably, were the sappy second thoughts that Sadie had been counting on. Old Willy might be a shit, but even he wouldn't be so bastardly as to just dismiss his daughter's pre-suicidal wishes without some agonizing. In a panic of remorse, I rang Penny at my house and told her I wanted to see the journals once more before she sent them off.

She brought them in that night. There was no note, of course. I held up each pad in turn and shook it vigorously over my blanketed lap, but nothing fell out. Then I went to the last page of the third journal to see if it contained anything pertaining to Sadie's suicide. Again, there was nothing. Her final entry, a week before her death, was not remotely portentous -- just an account of meeting an ex-boyfriend. Not exactly perky but not the sort of thing that suggests an imminent decision to do herself in.

Still, I did not hand the journals back to Penny. I told her to come back and pick them up the next day. And then, when she dutifully returned the following afternoon, I put her off for another twenty-four hours. This went on for two or three days until I had to acknowledge that I was keeping the journals. I had begun reading them, you see -- staying up until one or two in the morning and waking again at five, specifically to plough through my daughter's splodgy, felt-tip hieroglyphs.

At first, my progress was very slow. I found that I was unable to look at the journal for much more than ten minutes at a time without getting pissed off and developing pains in my gut -- terrible, fluttery pains, like the first, prophetic murmurings of a bad clam. But I have slowly grown more resilient. At this point, I am able to read for quite long stretches without so much as a wince. I have even stopped humming loudly when I get to particularly uncomfortable passages.

The early stuff is not without historical interest. I am disinterring all sorts of long-forgotten details about my life. I am also remembering Sadie. She was a slight, skinny thing at ten -- still basically a boy -- with an odd, froggy sort of face and many whimsical rituals: folding all her clothes, from her knickers to her hairband, into geometric patterns on a chair before she went to bed at night. Going to sleep with her arms folded piously across her chest, like the girls in Little House on the Prairie. In the afternoons, after school, she used to play for hours at something called "french skipping" -- leaping in and out of two parallel lengths of elastic tied around chair-legs and singing a strange song about a daddy who bought a donkey. "Donkey died, daddy cried. Inky pinky ponky." She had a crush on Elvis. She was against putting pepper in scrambled eggs on the grounds that it looked like bugs eating daisies. She had a tortoise who fell into the garden pond and drowned. Amazingly, she loved me.

Meet the Author

Zoe Heller was born in London and educated at Oxford and Columbia. She lives in Brooklyn and Pennsylvania. This is her first novel.

Brief Biography

New York, New York
Date of Birth:
July 7, 1965
Place of Birth:
London, England
B.A., St. Anne's College, Oxford, 1987; M.A., Columbia University 1988

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Everything You Know 1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
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