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All Souls

3.03  ·  Rating details ·  590 ratings  ·  110 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 223 pages
Published April 1st 2008 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P (first published January 1st 2008)
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Average rating 3.03  · 
Rating details
 ·  590 ratings  ·  110 reviews

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Jun 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
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 w
Sep 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
May 13, 2009 rated it it was ok
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.
Dusty Myers
Jul 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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 wh
Nov 27, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
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...
Eliyanna Kaiser
Jul 13, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: general-fiction
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.

Apr 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
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.
Apr 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
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
Apr 21, 2009 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Jan 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
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 wo ...more
Oct 31, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

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 fa
Feb 22, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
May 11, 2010 rated it liked it
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 willin
Rebecca Makkai
Aug 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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, tho
Oct 06, 2014 rated it it was ok
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 coul ...more
Hafeez Lakhani
Aug 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels
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.
N.W. Moors
Apr 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 i ...more
Apr 09, 2018 rated it it was ok
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.
Mar 13, 2020 marked it as abandoned
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!
Mar 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
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.
Christopher MacMillan
Aug 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 ca
Emily Gong
May 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Jan 12, 2009 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: anyone who's gone to a private school in NYC?
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Laurel Kane
Apr 27, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2009
I liked this book, but didn't love it. It was kind of like an outline of a novel that the author had meant to go back in and flesh out at a later date. I felt like I was getting these little glimpses into the exclusive private school world of Siddons and it just made me want more. You never found out enough about any one of the 10 or so characters the book followed to really care about them. I'm sure Christine Schutt had some sort of rationale behind writing All Souls in that format, but it just ...more
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is the story of students, their parents, and their faculty, in their senior year at an exclusive girls prep school, Siddons, on Manhattan. One of the girls, Astra Dell, has a rare and aggressive cancer for which she has been hospitalized for treatment. This is a plot element, but it also forms a backdrop for a maze of other elements, for this story has many threads. It examines the relationships and conflicts of various characters – faculty, parents, and students. The story is fast paced, e ...more
Eva Mitnick
Aug 11, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: grown-ups
This is the kind of book that makes me feel that I'm not getting quite enough oxygen. The writing is excellent but somehow a bit rarefied - there are many characters, but I never felt much empathy or even understanding for a single one of them.

The characters are the students (seniors all) and teachers of an exclusive girls' school in Manhattan (in 1997, for some reason), along with a few assorted parents, with the hub of the story being Astra Dell, a senior with a particularly virulent form of c
Eric Sasson
Jun 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
I don't usually read books quickly, but All Souls was so compelling I finished it in two days. It has an interesting structure--several named sections, each containing short chapters which rotate among a cast of characters at a prestigious NYC girls prep school, and we are essentially inside the heads of these characters for each of these chapters. Some might be put off by the abruptness of the chapters but I found the characters to be superbly drawn. They really came alive for me on the page. A ...more
Dec 12, 2007 rated it liked it
There are some surprises here, and some excellent writing, but there's also anorexia and a sad-sack teacher who lives in Queens and bitchy rich society ladies--everything you've already ready about in some other Manhattan prep school novel. The narrator is a bit pious and sentimental--and also essentially humorless. The novel is set on the UWS, but there are britishisms everywhere. Because it jumps from character to character, giving each just two or three paragraphs when her turn comes, the nar ...more
Oct 07, 2008 rated it liked it
This short novel reads like an impressionist painting. If you look too closely you'll find the details lacking, but by backing away a bit you see the overall image taking shape. I was intrigued by a NYTimes review, calling "All Souls" "exciting evidence that [Schutt] continues to push the boundaries of fiction." This story tells of the impact a dying girl has on her senior classmates and teachers at an affluent, private girls' school in NY. By sketching out the faintest of details and fragments ...more
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