“Family is family. Whether it’s the one you start out with… the one that you end up with… or the family that you gain along the way.”
- Gloria Delgado-“Family is family. Whether it’s the one you start out with… the one that you end up with… or the family that you gain along the way.”
- Gloria Delgado-Pritchett, Modern Family -
Death. It comes for everyone. It never seems fair, no matter how old or young, sick or healthy, mean or good a person is. All the Time in the World by Caroline Angell begins with a death. As the reader, the outsider, you don’t yet understand or fully appreciate what this death means, but as you read on, you will grieve; you will feel sad and angry that this death happened at all; that it happened to this person at this time and in this manner. Death is not the beginning though, nor is it really the end.
Charlotte is a talented composer; a wunderkind. She was the teacher’s pet in grad school. While the other students worshiped the ground Jess walked on, Charlotte was the one to be set apart. That’s why when Jess betrays her in the worst way, in a way she’s only been able to confess to her two sisters, Charlotte doesn’t have the heart for composing anymore. Living in New York City, far away from her family, and forced to find a way to pay her bills, Charlotte applies for the position of nanny at the McLean household.
Scotty and Gretchen McLean, parents of Matty and Georgie, are young and glamorous, with an Upper East Side apartment to rival most mansions and money to burn. They all take to each other easily, and before long, Charloette has become an extension of the family, filling the gaps left by Scotty as he travels for work, and by Gretchen as she runs errands and works part-time. The banter between the three adults is appealingly snarky, and Charlotte’s interactions with Matty and Georgie were always loving and often hilarious. As someone who appreciates quick wit, I immediately fell in love with Charlotte and the McLeans. Which is why the death – Gretchen’s death – becomes more and more distressing as the narrative continues to switch in turns from “before” to “after.”
Before, Gretchen held the family together while Scotty traveled. Before, Gretchen would soothe the boy’s fears and worry over them in the way only a mother can. Before, Gretchen and Charlotte were a well-oiled machine, keeping track of play dates, meal times, speech patterns, stuffed animals, and the “Pale Male.”
After, Scotty can barely function. After, Matty doesn’t know what to do with the grief and rage that fills his tiny body. After, Charlotte realizes that she’s invested in this family more than she imagined she would be, and she’s the only other adult who knows the family and their routines inside out. In a world robbed of the light, can one person possibly find the switch?
All the Time in the World is an incredible, heart-rending portrayal of a family overcome by the shock and grief of their wife, mother, daughter, and friend dying so young and so senselessly. When it feels like the world has stopped, still, it goes on. No one understands this more than Charlotte. To follow along as she attempts to navigate the emotional minefield that has become the McLean household is an exercise in empathy. Scotty becomes even less of a figure in the boy’s day-to-day life, spending long hours at the office and coming home late at night. He cannot stand to look at the boys who remind him of the wife he lost so suddenly. Charlotte can’t bear to leave the grief-stricken family now, when they need her the most, and so she moves in.
From food poisoning and one awful night in the bathroom, to dealing with behavior issues at school and home, to appealing to Scotty to be the father that the boys need, Charlotte handles a lot of serious, emotionally exhausting issues surprisingly well. I greatly admired her strength and resilience in dealing with the various emotions that Matty and Georgie experienced. Some reviewers have expressed skepticism over her seemingly innate nurturing ways, but I felt that her behaviors and reactions were realistic and showed just how deep her connection was with the McLean family.
In between dealing with the McLean family crisis, Charlotte is reminded from time to time that she has a whole other life outside of this adopted family. While she is shuttling the boys to therapist appointments, her friends from grad school are earning accolades and placements in prestigious programs. Then, Jess breezes into town with an invitation for her former students to attend a performance showcase. Having never confronted Jess over the betrayal, and with her new life taking its exhaustive toll, Charlotte must eventually decide if she’s going to hide from the world forever, or if she’s willing to take risks once again in pursuing what she loves.
The alternating narrative of Charlotte’s “outside life” seemed jarring at first, considering much of the novel is dedicated to the McLean family, but I think it’s also appropriate because it shows how startled Charlotte must have felt each time she realized that she has people who love her and dreams to follow that do not involve the McLean family.
All the Time in the World doesn’t end with a happily ever after, and it shouldn’t. Grief has a very deliberate effect on the lives it touches, and everyone must walk their own path in their own time. However, it does leave us with a note of hope for happier, healthier tomorrows for the McLean family, and for Charlotte. If you’re looking for a story where you can get down in the trenches with the characters and feel like you really know them, like you care for them, then this is the book for you. Brava, Caroline Angell....more