Book Review & Q&A: Everything but the Truth by Gillian McAllister

Do you ever check your partner's phone?
Should you?
Are you prepared for the consequences?

It all started with an email.
Rachel didn't even mean to look. She loves Jack. She's pregnant with their child. She trusts him.

But now she's seen it, she can't undo that moment. Or the chain of events it has set in motion.

Why has Jack been lying about his past? Just what exactly is he hiding? And doesn't Rachel have a right to know the truth at any cost?

In Everything but the Truth, Gillian McAllister has created a taut, tense and compulsive novel of deceit, secrets and scintillating suspicion. I love nothing more than, when reading, delving into the deepest and darkest depths of a relationship, and discovering that all is not as simple as it first appears to be. The shattering of a perfect surface is tremendously achieved within Everything but the Truth, a mirror being smashed into a million tiny pieces leaving behind the rawness of reality and truth. This is the case for not only the reader, but for Rachel too, as she begins to realise all is not as it seems. This novel is split into three parts: Who?, What? and Why? McAllister answers these three important questions within her delectable storytelling, and she also takes her readers back and forth between the past and the present day, superbly filling in the spaces in-between, so as to leave no stone unturned. The unravelling of this teasing and tempestuous novel is sparked simply by the arrival of an email late one night. Neither Rachel nor Jack can even begin to imagine the consequences that will follow that moment. A moment that changes everything.

As the novel begins, McAllister introduces her readers to Rachel and Jack. Rachel is pregnant with Jack's child and, at first, they appear to have a truly tender, loving and admirable relationship. They do all of those things that couples who are madly in love with each other tend to do. Amongst the nicknames and soft glances, the teasing touches and gentle laughter, the comfort and familiarity of knowing the person you love inside out prevails. There's a sense of calm between the two, and McAllister captures it beautifully. Somehow, it's chaotic with emotion yet serene between them, it's an atmosphere which I was immediately drawn into and couldn't get enough of. It was simply the most delicate introduction to these characters. An introduction with an incredible amount of the unknown simmering beneath it that caught me within its grasp the very second I detected it. And then, as if this very thing itself was a warning to Rachel, the screen of Jack's iPad lights up at the arrival of an email. Subject: Fwd: Douglas's Atrocity Rears Its Head Again. The email means nothing yet everything to Rachel, and once seen, no matter how hard she tries, it proves impossible to remove it from her mind. Forget about it. Ignore it. Move on.

From beginning to end, Everything but the Truth was a masterful and suspenseful work of fiction. I, just as much as Rachel, felt desperate to figure out the meaning behind the email that Jack received and refused to rest until I knew just as much as she did. There were so many questions to be asked by Rachel, but it was as though she didn't want to admit that she didn't trust Jack. After all, didn't she know him better than she knew herself? But suddenly, she finds herself questioning everything. Who is the man named in the email? What is this atrocity mentioned? And why would Jack even be interested in it? Rachel doesn't know the answers to these questions but she is determined to find out, no matter how difficult it turns out be, no matter how many things try to stand in her way. In her pursuit of doing so, Rachel quickly begins to realise that she doesn't know Jack as well as she thinks she does. He has a secret history that has been kept locked up for a long time, a history protected by more than just himself. And those secrets are about to come spilling and slithering out like poisonous snakes, raining down on them all.

What I truly loved about this novel was how the past and the present collided so dramatically. Certain themes cropped up that caused me to think deeply. How are wrongs weighed up against other wrongs? Is it possible for them to be compared? Can forgiveness really ever come so easily? Is it possible to forget entirely what has gone before? Or do we learn to accept that everybody makes mistakes in life, even if those mistakes are monstrously monumental? McAllister writes so beautifully about these things. About things that affect you emotionally, perhaps even affect you on a whole other level. This is certainly the case for Rachel and Jack, once so in sync with each other, now a larger-than-life distance apart.

Everything but the Truth wrenched numerous emotions from within me. There were moments where I was moved to tears. Moments where I felt injustice on Rachel's part. Moments where I knew that something wasn't right but I was unable to put my finger on exactly what it was. I had a mindful of questions as I progressed through this book. Certain characters raised my suspicions and put me on my guard. I inspected each of the people in Rachel's and Jack's life intensely, waiting for something to give them away, to peel off a piece of faded and yellowing wallpaper to reveal the truth beneath. McAllister kept me on my toes, heightened each of my senses, and had me feeling like the rug was about to be pulled out from beneath my feet at any moment. I held my breath. I let it out in a rush. And I did it again and again until I reached the incredibly satisfying end that I felt I physically needed from the author in order to allow my bunched-up muscles to relax.

This is, quite honestly, an exceptionally clever, addictive and compelling debut from Gillian McAllister that explores just how far people will go to keep the truth buried. How many lies they can tell, even to those that they love. Already I know that I will be keeping a keen eye out for news of McAllister's next novel, because this was simply superb storytelling delivered with elegance, excellence and exquisite skill. Hummingbird Reviews is rating Gillian McAllister's Everything but the Truth with five out of five stars.

Everything but the Truth by Gillian McAllister is published on the 9th of March 2017, by Penguin. You can pre-order your copy here.

Q&A with Gillian McAllister
First of all Gillian, I'd like to take this moment to congratulate you on writing such a terrifically suspenseful, mysterious and highly-emotional novel. In EVERYTHING BUT THE TRUTH, you cover such a broad range of topics. Tell us, when did the very first ideas your novel begin to come to you?
Thank you for your kind words! I found out about a weird legal loophole that I had never before heard of, and started reading up on it. The more I read about it, the more a story started to form. What if, what if, what if... what if a woman met a man who she really, really loved, but discovered this? That's where the kernel of Everything but the Truth began.

Throughout the telling of Rach's and Jack's story, readers are taken on a tension-fuelled journey between the past and the present. What did you hope to achieve by structuring the novel in this way?
One of the crucial themes of my novel was culpability, and that nobody is perfect, and that even when trying to do the right thing sometimes people make mistakes. It was therefore really important to me to show that, although Jack has an extremely dark and frightening moment in his past, Rachel has also done something morally wrong, and with devastating consequences. I also happen to love a split narrative, and the feeling of taking the reader back to the past just as they're dying to know what's unfolding in the present!

Do you think that you have a specific writing style? If so, how would you choose to describe it?
I do get told I have a strong authorial voice quite often. For me I just write how it feels naturally for that character to think and speak (because I write in the first person). I also favour sparse prose that doesn't get in the way, and moves the plot along, but with some (I hope) nice turns of phrase and unusual metaphors.

The title of your novel seems to capture everything within the book perfectly. How did you come up with it?
It's quite a funny story actually. We had several titles in the running and, on the day my book was going on submission to my editors, my agent and I both agreed we hadn't really found the one. Over a Pret sandwich at lunchtime, I googled legal maxims, and finally found the oath - the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth - and thought, well, Jack does quite the opposite to that, and so twisted the phrase. It's great, because now all of my titles are forms of legal maxims. I love that.

The characters within your book are all complex and fantastically unique. Tell us, who was your favourite character to write? Did you feel a kindred spirit in any of them?
I always find it easy to write an affable, quirky Dad figure, so Rachel's dad came easily to me because he does so many Dad-things. I also really enjoyed writing such a scientific and investigative heroine - she's a plotter's dream, because she goes and finds stuff herself. My heroine in my second novel, Anything You Do Say, is avoidant, which was much more of a challenge!

As a writer, how do you create an atmosphere within your work? What adds to tension, do you think?
I think the reader knowing that All Is Not Well is a key part of it. So, from the first moment in chapter one when Rachel opens the email referring to an 'atrocity', the tension is created. And even if (and, sometimes, especially if) all seems well on the surface after it, readers are smart people, and they will be thinking: what's up with that? That's my thinking, anyway!

There were so many themes explored within EVERYTHING BUT THE TRUTH. Which was your favourite to open and dissect?
Wow, you're right - there really are, though I think sometimes I just want to tell stories and we superimpose those themes on at the end retrospectively. I found the exploration of forgiveness a fascinating one, and I was really interested in my own conclusions to that (and was quite surprised by them, to be honest). I also enjoyed writing about guilt (I always do!) and what wrongdoing really is, and if there are degrees of it.

Between your two main characters, Rach and Jack, sat a whole load of secrets. How did you hope to make your readers feel by creating this gap between them? Beforehand, they appear to be an incredibly loved-up couple and that changes so much throughout the progression of their story.
I suppose I wanted to make my reader feel invested in Jack and Rachel, and I really wanted to show that, and not simply tell the reader in the opening that they had been happy until the email. So they have their inside jokes and they have so much fun together and I loved writing that lightness between them. And then - like all novelists! - I decided to torture them, by making it as difficult as possible for them to be together.

What does a normal day look like for you, Gillian?
Quite hectic. I work full-time as a lawyer. I write around that, in the evenings and at the weekends. Right now, I'm doing these questions on a Saturday night. I haven't hit my third novel's daily word count yet but I will. I don't watch much television.

How long did it take you to complete EVERYTHING BUT THE TRUTH? Including plotting and editing.
I can give you exact dates if you like! I wrote the first draft in September - December 2015. I then re-wrote it June - October 2016, after messing around with another book in the interim. And then I did two lots of two-week edits with my editor at Penguin, and then a few days for the copy edits and page proofs. So I suppose about nine to ten months, in total, but I'm a bit quicker these days, because I am less frightened, and better at planning!

What is the best writing advice you have received?
Be so good they can't ignore you.

Did you have to undergo any research for this book?
Yes. On that weird legal loophole I talked about above, on the Dark Web, on the Way Back Machine (which are all real things and so I didn't want to get them wrong). On general police and court processes, on Ewing's sarcoma, on medico-legal ethics. Quite a lot! I write about things that interest me, and so research is more a process of finding out about fascinating things. I did need to get it checked over by a criminal lawyer and a doctor, after it sold, though, and the doctor, in particular, had to correct quite a few things!

Do any particular scenes stand out to you? Any you enjoyed writing more than others?
The boat! It's SO special to me that the boat scene that I dreamt up alone one night is now on such a beautiful cover. I can't even begin to describe that.

Also the rats. Everyone loves the rat scene.

Who are some of your favourite writers? What genres do you enjoy reading yourself?
I'm always paranoid I will leave somebody super important to me out of these questions, but I am a long-time fan of Louise Doughty. I loved Disclaimer by Renee Knight and Missing, Presumed, recently. I mostly read what I write - thrillers which fall slightly on the relationship/character side of things.

Coffee or tea?
Coffee, for sure. I'm so basic. I love a Starbucks.

Summer or winter?
Summer. This time of year I'm desperate for spring to begin.

Heels or flats?
Flats. I used to do ballet and have rubbish feet.

Hair up or down?

Holiday in the city or the countryside?
Well, I would be inclined to say countryside - I want to move to the countryside as soon as I can - but my best holidays have been to New York and a weekend break in Newcastle, where I forgot my overnight bag and had to shop... it's a hard life.

And lastly, as today is the BIG DAY and Everything but the Truth has now been set free into the world, how will you be celebrating?
I've got the day off. I intend to pay an early visit to my book in the wild (fingers crossed!) and then will be launching it at Birmingham Waterstones with my family and friends.

Gilly, thank you so much for taking the time to be here today. I really do appreciate it, and I wish you every success with the launch of Everything but the Truth.

About the author.
I am an author. Everything but the Truth, my debut novel, is coming out with Penguin in March next year and I am absolutely terrified. I like my very orange cat, reading books in bed while it rains, taking baths so hot they turn my skin pink and that moment where you think 'what if...' and a novel idea is born.

You can find Gillian McAllister on & Twitter.

You can purchase your copy of Everything but the Truth here.

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