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All Souls

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In 1997, at the distinguished Siddons School on Manhattan's Upper East Side, the school year opens with distressing news: Astra Dell is suffering from a rare disease. Astra's friends try to reconcile the sick girl's suffering with their own fierce longings and impetuous attachments. Car writes unsparing letters, which the dirty Marlene, in her devotion, then steals. Other classmates carry on: The silly team of Suki and Alex pursue Will Bliss while the subversive Lisa Van de Ven makes dates with Miss Wilkes. The world of private schools and privilege in New York City is funny, poignant, cruel, and at its heart is a sick girl, Astra Dell, "that pale girl from the senior class, the dancer with all the hair, the red hair, knotted or braided or let to fall to her waist, a fever and she consumed."

National Book Award Finalist Christine Schutt has created a wickedly original tale of innocence, daring and illness.

223 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2008

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Christine Schutt

27 books107 followers

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5 stars
77 (12%)
4 stars
130 (20%)
3 stars
206 (33%)
2 stars
156 (25%)
1 star
52 (8%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 115 reviews
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,480 followers
January 28, 2022
This book was a Pulitzer runner-up in 2009 when Olive Kitteridge won the prize, but honestly neither of these was as good as the other runner-up that year, The Plague of Doves. Regardless, this book is maybe more accurately classified as a novella. It is the fragmented stories of folks impacted by the seemingly terminal illness that besets a girl at a rich prep school in Manhattan. I was not overly impressed with the characters maybe because it is so far outside my experience or because we are not given enough time with any one character to grow some attachment for them. I was not sold on a few of the minor plotlines either.
I would not call this one an essential read even if at times the prose as pretty good.
86 reviews3 followers
June 25, 2008
Christine Schutt was my much beloved English teacher and, I am proud to say, friend at Nightingale-Bamford. Nominated for the National Book Prize a couple of years back, her latest is a year in the life at an all girls private school. While I do not know whether the characters and situations she describes in All Souls are accessible to all, I found the book lyrical, hypnotic and SPOT ON. Her language is sparse, and carefully chosen, and marvelously wry. I picked this up right after John Banville's The Sea, fearing that anything after that chef d'ouevre would pale in comparison-- and Christine's work was its equal in every way-- I found myself thinking about the characters during my work day, holding off reading so that I could extend the pleasure of basking in her world-- my world that was-- a little longer.
Profile Image for Susan.
572 reviews70 followers
May 26, 2010
I began reading this book with high hopes - Christine Schutt is an award winning novelist, and All Souls was a 2009 Pulitzer finalist for fiction. Unfortunately, it was a huge let down. The "bones" of the story are good, but it is extremely disjointed and could have been better with either twice the pages or half the characters involved. The excessive cast of characters come across as one-dimensional, clichéd, and poorly developed.

There are some beautiful passages in All Souls, but most of the writing is clumsy and difficult to trudge through. Schutt's style takes some getting used to and the story just wasn't long enough to get me there. I am glad that I checked this one out at the library and did not purchase it.
Profile Image for Kevin Adams.
339 reviews67 followers
February 5, 2023
What a gorgeous written book. Not my last by Christine Schutt.

4.5 ⭐️
41 reviews1 follower
September 11, 2009
Astra Dell, c'etait moi; formerly a teen cancer patient attending an all-girls prep school, I had a natural interest in reading this novel. Schutt captures the emotional complexities of the girl with a life-threatening illness, well aware of Astra's automatic candidacy for sainthood, yet refreshingly portrays her as a three-dimensional, unique character. Cancer serves as a focal point yet never becomes a black hole to engulf the entire narrative. The reader also develops an understanding of the inner and outer conflicts that trouble a wide variety of Astra's classmates: the "popular" crowd, the wealthy whose money guarantees them college admission, the scholarship girl, the eating disordered, the emotionally neglected, the all-too-impossibly perfect. A teacher herself, Schutt describes the lives of the Siddons School faculty, their feelings for and frustrations with their students and each other. Parents both present and absent complete the picture of adolescent life, girls faced with both the ultimate question of mortality and questions of undetermined weight such as what to put on one's yearbook page, what to write for that boring class, what to say and how to act around one's peers.

Some of the characterizations of parents seemed a bit stereotypical (the wealthy, anorexic, fashion-obsessed, neglectful mother), and some of the chapter titles a bit opaque (what does this episode have to do with "fools"?), but the novel as a whole remains true to the experience it seeks to represent.
Profile Image for Gina.
905 reviews4 followers
May 13, 2009
Skip this book unless you like books about snooty private-school girls or writing that has absolutely no character development (and too many characters at that). Once again I made the mistake of thinking that if it was up for a Pulitzer Prize, it must be fantastic. Not so much.
Profile Image for Christopher Robinson.
172 reviews71 followers
December 22, 2022
All Souls is yet another diamond in the Tiffany bracelet that is Christine Schutt’s body of work. It manages to be perhaps her most accessible fiction to date without sacrificing any of what makes me love her work as much as I do. Do yourself a favor and go in as blindly as possible. However, if you’ve already read about it some, rest assured that while it does resemble the blurb it bears on its jacket flap, it is also very much not the book you’re expecting it to be.* It’s something else entirely, something marvelous, warm, teeming with unexpected hilarity and deeply human sorrow. Quite a thing, indeed. I loved it and I’ll definitely be rereading it.

Highly recommended.

* to be fair, I suspect this accounts for the fairly low score here on Goodreads. Perhaps people thought they were in for something lighter, simpler, less literary. I have no proof, of course, but I can imagine this cover design and jacket blurb appealing to a crowd that Schutt was just never going to please.
Profile Image for Dusty Myers.
57 reviews23 followers
August 12, 2008
All Souls is a campus novel—so beloved genre!—and concerns itself mostly with the senior girls surrounding Astra, the dying protagonist. And they're girls in full. Schutt, in her reading, called them "feckless girls" and then proceeded to read a section of the novel (each of the nine chapters is divided into titles subsections) about one of these feckless girls, Marlene:

"Marlene picked her nose and sent what she found in it flying across the room. She was a dirty girl, she knew that much, and whatever the girls in school suspected her of—stealing, farting, lying—was true. The slut part was not true, although she wished it were, but all the dirty parts—yes, she was that girl. Look at her messy room, the unresolve of such disorder. She had no ambition but to dizzy herself into absence" (12, emphasis added).

I italicized that last line because it leads me to what I love the most about Schutt's writing, which I learned from her over coffee one morning, what has completely changed the way I go about putting a story together, getting from point A to point B. It involves forgetting about point B altogether, and instead trusting the inherent strength of one's sentences. This is a novel bursting with beautiful sentences, and yet somehow they all point toward a moving and funny narrative. It's like magic.
Profile Image for Antoinette.
216 reviews17 followers
November 27, 2008
The season may be to blame for my intense hatred for this book. With finals and holiday chaos I barely felt able to concentrate. However, it seemed like a case of a good writer trying to be a great writer, which is unfortunate because Schutt seemed to be a good writer. There seemed to be some point she desperately wanted to get across, but couldn't seem to form the words to make it a reality. Whatever it was, it was lost on me...
Profile Image for Eliyanna Kaiser.
Author 4 books15 followers
July 26, 2010
I suppose it takes a certain amount of chutzpah to rate something that got nominated for a Pulitzer two stars. Chutzpah, meet me.

I think if I'd never before read a book with a class critique, this might have been more interesting to me. But the basics: rich girls are messed up, come see how much... boring.

I get that this is basically a smarter version of Gossip Girls, and incredibly well written.

But I just didn't enjoy it, didn't really find anything new in it.

Profile Image for Sophie.
116 reviews1 follower
April 22, 2019
She has found her voice, great prose, and good story. I feel like the narrative revolved around Aster, when it should have been hers to tell. Interesting perspectives though.
Profile Image for Rhonda.
74 reviews12 followers
April 27, 2009
I'm very hard on adults writing as children; they bring their mature sensibilities to consciousnesses that are too young to be so self-aware. Starting with Tom Sawyer (or Tom Jones?), and Holden Caulfield and Scout Finch aside, readers have suspended disbelief in juvenile narrators too readily.
This may be the case in All Souls; I'm not sure. And the reason I'm not sure is that the juvenile narrators, though young, are the offspring of the rich--students at an all-girls' school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I'm not sure such children have real childhoods. So often they are afterthoughts or fashion accessories or trophies, raised not by their parents but by servants, and fully exposed to their parents' shallowness, perfidy, and treachery. So these adult-children's voices sound true to me. Schutt's been listening to her students, and she renders them, their parents, her colleagues and the school administration deftly, economically. We wouldn't want more detail. We really wouldn't.
Profile Image for Alison.
321 reviews57 followers
June 3, 2010
A bizarre little book about an exclusive girls' private school. It's told in vignettes, each about one of the large cast of characters (the girls themselves, certain teachers, parents), but it reads more like poetry in the way that Schutt links contrasting elements and uses certain phrases over and over again. Characters that I thought would act one way, repeatedly acted another, and I thought this worked to great effect in terms of describing adolescence and the nature of schools. I suppose the "plot" is driven somewhat by Astra, who is in the hospital fighting a rare form of cancer, but even she is just simply one character amidst the multitudes--a well-defined storyline never really emerges, it's more a slice of life story. It kept me interested and I really admire the author's ability to link together so many different stories so seamlessly, but it didn't touch me or speak to me in a powerful way, it was just sort of there. But perhaps that was the intention.
Profile Image for Becky.
743 reviews101 followers
February 1, 2010
I read this one for my book club and loved it. This was like a high-culture version of Gossip Girl, and if you know how much I love Gossip Girl, you know that's a compliment. It takes place at a private girls' high school on the Upper East Side. One of the seniors is dying of a rare form of cancer, but the focus isn't on her illness so much as how it affects her friends, their parents, and the teachers at the school. It brings them together and tears them apart and brings out the best and the worst in them. Schutt's narration takes some getting used to -- it jumps from one point of view to another so quickly (every 2-3 paragraphs, at times) that it's incredibly fragmented and scattered. But it works. When you put it together, you get something that's insightful and sharply funny. My only complaint: at 240 pages, it was WAY too short. It was good enough to merit the cutting down of a few extra trees.
Profile Image for Dennis.
801 reviews31 followers
February 27, 2018

I was surprised to see the first review here raved so much about this book until I noticed that it was written by an ex-pupil of the author; since the writer took as a setting the type of school in which she taught, I guess her ex-acolyte could relate. Not I. A super-snobbish exclusive girls' high school in Manhattan comes across in the worst possible light, showing its students for the most part in a deservedly bad light. The differences in class and money bring out the worst everyone on the face of a classmate's cancer as all try to use it to their own advantage. There are some sympathetic people in the book but most were on the level of those who didn't need to study or attend classes because they practically own the school and who needs to get good grades to enter university if Daddy can just buy some Ivy League school a building? It's like that, I know, but reality does not always equal a good read.

Profile Image for Jeanne.
976 reviews17 followers
June 7, 2008
Everything I read in reviews of this novel is true. The writing style is choppy. The plot is not cohesive. The characters are not fully developed.

But anyway. . . this is the story of a group of seniors at the Siddons school, a fancy prep school in New York City. Mostly, the girls are worried about getting into the colleges of their choice, but there are other assorted worries as well.

Astra Dell, one of their own, is dying in the hospital. Car, her best friend, is fading away in front of their eyes, a victim of anorexia. And Lisa has embarked upon an affair with one of her teachers. A lesbian affair.

So, there are all of these characters and plots, but nothing really comes together. And we really never get to know any of the characters.

Kind of a disappointment.
Profile Image for Jessica.
124 reviews17 followers
May 11, 2010
I liked the way the narrative was building during the first half, but - silly me - I expected things to come together a bit more. It felt more like a series of really short stories taking place around the same school.

I may have connected more with the book if I had ANY shared experience with any of the characters, but it just felt like a completely different world. Not in a good way, but in a way that makes me depressed that people live like that and reinforces my distaste for wealth.

I'm willing to give Schutt another chance, as there seems to be some potential there for a strong novel. She spits out some powerful introspective sentences, but her writing in this novel lacks a visual impact.

Profile Image for Rebecca Makkai.
Author 22 books3,577 followers
August 15, 2011
I reread this book earlier this summer and was blown away all over again by the gorgeous language and effortless humanity that Schutt manages to build up in postage-stamp episodes. Episodic writing is usually so typical of student fiction, but here it's masterful and purposeful, and it makes the book all the more compulsively readable.

It won't be for everyone... Those seeking a linear plot and a lot of exposition will be frustrated. Fans of Mary Gaitskill, people who voluntarily read poetry, those seeking something off the beaten track of contemporary fiction, though, will love it.
Profile Image for Jamie.
55 reviews4 followers
November 15, 2014
Yeah, this book was...mehhhhhh. I kept waiting for it to get interesting and it never really did. The book revolves around a cancer-stricken high-schooler and focuses on how her classmates at an exclusive NYC girls' school react to/deal with/live their lives in the wake of her illness. Seemed like there could be potential for some good melodrama, but it was just a snoozefest. Many characters were introduced but not developed. Might have been better if the book was longer so these characters could have been developed more, but if it was any longer I would never have finished it, so oh well.
Profile Image for Hafeez Lakhani.
106 reviews7 followers
December 28, 2014
Absolutely beautiful prose. My only gripe is the structure, which I generally loved, left me more distant to the characters than I would have liked. Still, a remarkable work.
Profile Image for N.W. Moors.
Author 11 books153 followers
April 5, 2018
All Souls is the story of the Siddons School, a girls prep school in New York City, in 1997. In truth, it's not really a story per se with a defined plot line. I found it more a kaleidoscope of character sketches as Ms. Schutt describes various students, teachers, and parents as the school year passes. A central figure is Astra Dell who is in the hospital with a rare form of cancer as the book begins. She is in her senior year, a lovely, kind girl who was a dancer before her illness struck. It is her absence from the school that impacts the others in the book in various ways.
Ms. Schutt has a definite style of writing that I very much enjoyed. Her word choices are lovely, and the result is almost a tone poem.
There's a variety of characters. Most of the girls are privileged, but there's the one scholarship girl. Most are recognizable types along with their brittle mothers and absent fathers. The teachers are also standard prep school figures, but it doesn't matter because they are all described in a unique and lovely manner. I often found myself reading aloud, mouthing the phrases, tasting the words as they flowed. I imagine this book is not to everyone's taste, but I can see why it won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize.
849 reviews
April 9, 2018
Novel. Set in 1997 on Manhattan’s upper east side, this novel focuses on the senior year of a group of girls enrolled in a private prep school. The school year opens with everyone shocked that one of the class leaders, Astra, is critically ill with a rare cancer. Her classmates cope with her illness in different ways while also coping with their senior year and its pressures of grades, college admissions, etc. I do not have any particular feelings about this book – meh.
Profile Image for Sarah.
1,117 reviews69 followers
Shelved as 'abandoned'
March 14, 2020
I think I would like this book under different circumstances but it's not grabbing me now, and I desperately need escapist literature. Open to trying again in the future!
Profile Image for Taun Tastic.
54 reviews
July 22, 2021
Meh. Any point or pearl within the story was lost beside the nauseating priveledge and entitlement of the characters.
Profile Image for Kimberly.
68 reviews1 follower
November 2, 2021
Hated it. I tried to read this twice. Returned it to the library both times unfinished. Bleh.
Profile Image for Gina.
408 reviews
May 23, 2022
There were a few interesting moments in this novel but as as whole I found it really confusing and the threads were hard to follow.
Profile Image for Melissa Nelson.
33 reviews
July 27, 2022
So disjointed and lacking in character development that the novella length made me happy.
Profile Image for Marie.
56 reviews
March 23, 2017
Unfortunately, a very forgettable book. Nothing grabbed me in the writing style (overly simple), characters or stories (too flimsy to be called a plot). If someone gives you a free copy to read on vacation, sure, go ahead. But I can't imagine recommending this book specifically to anyone.
Profile Image for Christopher MacMillan.
58 reviews2 followers
September 9, 2011
After reading quite a few underwhelming reviews for this novel on here, I wasn't expecting to enjoy it a whole lot. Perhaps it was because of these low expectations, but I actually really liked this one.

Christine Schutt's novel is an episodic look at one academic year from both inside and outside the walls of a private school for girls. Scutt makes it a point to keep the readers at arm's reach, never allowing us to get too enraptured with any one particular character or situation. Instead, we catch glimpses of these people - young girls, as well as their teachers and parents - as they each tackle his or her own individual struggles that plague their day-to-day lives. By the end of the book, very few of these characters actually have their problems solved, but hey, that's real-life, right? By doing this, Schutt gives her readers the impression that these characters will live long after the book's ending, whereas had everyone lived happily ever after, the final page would have seemed more, well, final for everyone.

I know this may sound unusual, but I actually liked how the book wasn't very personal in its approach. It gave the sense that all of these people and their problems are insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and that they have the same problems that millions of people share (sickness, lack of confidence, trouble making friends, not getting along with parents, etc); however, Schutt was simultaneously able to make us feel that their story was worth being told anyway. She used the private school as a microcosm for the issues that people - in particular, teenage girls - fight with everywhere, and I thought that was a pretty neat concept.

Christine Schutt really plays around with her narrative styles too -- this book doesn't read like most others. I can understand why this may have stunted the enjoyment level for some readers, but I didn't mind it. There were a few moments when I had a hard time to follow what exactly Schutt was talking about (she experiments with being rather abstract from time to time), but I just went with the flow, and found myself being rather amused throughout.
Profile Image for Emily Gong.
26 reviews2 followers
July 21, 2008
I've been meaning to read this book for ages - it's been sitting on my bookshelf since I preordered it - but I kept getting sidetracked. I've finally gotten around to cracking the cover, and I don't know why I didn't start earlier. I raced through the first hundred pages in a few hours (true story: it was the only thing I wanted to do when I had a headache last night), and the only reason I haven't finished it is that I have to work. I realize that this has a lot of sentimental value for me that it won't have for most other people because this is my teacher and this is my school (that christmas tree scene? I lived it. Eight times.) and these are pieces of girls that I knew, portrayed in a light perhaps more poignantly true than a lot of them might even realize.
But that aside, Ms. Schutt has a way of capturing a swirl of emotions and sweetness and vulnerability in each person because it's true. That is exactly her voice, and the kind of hope that she infuses things with, and it's a talent in and of itself to realize that strength and know its right place is in this story. This is not just another prep school story. Its purpose isn't scandal or gossip or criticism. Those elements happen to be there, yes, as part of the story, but for me the heart of the story is about how one tragedy, one girl, can affect the workings of a community. I'll bet everyone has been there when something scandalous or terrible has happened and suddenly everyone is talking about it, people who don't even really know the victim or the situation. On some level, terrible as it may sound, we feel the need to involve ourselves in the drama, display what caring, compassionate people we are. In reality, there is no right way to react, and so everyone responds differently - and this is their story.
If you're lucky enough to take a class with Ms. Schutt (she's taught workshops at various universities recently), you might understand why I love this book and the author and her voice.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 115 reviews

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