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An Empty Room: A Novel [Hardcover]

Talitha Stevenson
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 30 2004
Unlike typical coming-of-age novels, An Empty Room looks at youthful cynicism and narcissism seriously. Twenty-seven-year-old Talitha Stevenson does not patronize the emotional lives of her characters with glib humor, coy wit, or fanciful nostalgia. Inspired by her own experience of growing up too fast among families affected by divorce, Stevenson's debut questions our perceptions of sexual intimacy as an endlessly renewable resource and asks if it is possible to simply use it up. Nineteen-year-old Emily lives a carefree life filled with swinging parties, plenty of drugs and alcohol, and sex with Tom, the seemingly perfect boyfriend. But when the luster of wild nights begins to fade, Emily is left jaded and directionless. Unwilling to accept the only futures she knows—whether it be the misery and jealousy of Tom's divorced parents or the hushed tensions that envelop her own parents' marriage—she begins a quest for a more genuine intimacy. The search leads her into a complex affair with the affable yet mysterious Simon, who is married. As their relationship approaches the breaking point, Emily is forced to make the same decisions regarding love, loyalty, and betrayal that are at the heart of the unraveling relationships of her parents and their friends.

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From Publishers Weekly

Stevenson sets up an evocative character study in her effective but occasionally turgid first novel, as she examines the plight of a beautiful, rudderless 19-year-old London girl who uses an affair with an older man to escape a destructive relationship with her boyfriend and make her leap into the adult world. On the surface, the gorgeous Emily has a lifestyle that offers more than enough hedonistic pleasures, including plenty of sex, drugs and alcohol and a freewheeling, intense relationship with her equally handsome but rather aloof beau, Tom. But Tom's charm gives way to some brutal controlling tendencies once the parties begin to wind down, and to find her emotional match Emily turns to Tom's older, married cousin Simon, a successful journalist. The plot follows a familiar emotional arc as Simon and Emily become intimate and Emily wonders whether Simon will leave his lovely but damaged wife, Rachel. Tom hovers menacingly in the background after Emily breaks up with him, and Stevenson lapses into melodrama when Emily tries to deal with Tom's backstabbing, Simon's failure to follow his heart and Rachel's intransigence. The insular nature of the narrative undermines Stevenson's fine work in developing Emily, but the quality character writing bodes well for Stevenson's future.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The summer before she begins university, 19-year-old Londoner Emily loses herself in glitzy, booze-and-drug soaked evenings with her well-heeled friends and gorgeous boyfriend, Tom. But Emily doesn't love Tom, and the "parody of intimacy" she shares with her friends has only left her feeling more alone. Only Tom's married, twentysomething cousin, Simon, makes her feel the transformation of first love, and when she begins an affair with him, she feels hope that she never felt growing up in a tense family with an adulterous father. After the affair is revealed, there are violent echoes of the Greek tragedies Emily learned as a child, in which life seems to be "constructed of nothing more than dirty coincidence." A Whitbread Finalist for First Novel, Stevenson's novel examines the powerful legacy of infidelity and the pivotal moments that make up larger acts of betrayal and love. Emily notices everything, and her raw, first-person voice is filled with astonishing, precise insights into human nature that will leave readers feeling both wiser and exposed. An accomplished debut. Gillian Engberg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant debut July 30 2003
By angus
Format:Hardcover
Emily is stuck in a sweltering london before university and she falls in love. She is a romantic and realist and lives in a world of people who lie and manipulate and yet somehow get on with their lives together. It is a book about survival and written in an everyday language which is at times rivals anything that modern poetry can offer.
A wonderful debut novel.
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1.0 out of 5 stars File under: Dull Sept. 18 2008
Format:Hardcover
The first 3/4 of the book are flat out boring. As I was reading I kept telling myself that something would grab me, anything. Nothing. The characters are dull, the story is tired and old. If written properly, one could say the story is classic, but this wasn't classic, it was (as I said) dull. The story did pick up a bit (emphasis on bit) because while I still didn't care about the characters or many of the details, I had to know what happened. I guess that in itself is a success if you can create that sort of want in a reader. Unfortunately that was the only upside to An Empty Room.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant debut July 30 2003
By angus - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Emily is stuck in a sweltering london before university and she falls in love. She is a romantic and realist and lives in a world of people who lie and manipulate and yet somehow get on with their lives together. It is a book about survival and written in an everyday language which is at times rivals anything that modern poetry can offer.
A wonderful debut novel.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Whose job is it to protect the inncent?" Sept. 2 2005
By Luan Gaines - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Emily is nineteen, attracted to Tom, son of her parent's acquaintances, Andrea and Tony Raine. While the Raine's file for divorce, Tom's married cousin, Simon, and his wife, Rachel, live with Andrea temporarily to help her prepare for the single life, her residence across the street from Emily's house. On the cusp of womanhood, Emily's attraction to Tom is mostly external, based on his striking handsomeness, their endless evenings of dancing, drinking and drugs a shadow romance. Emily isn't ready for commitment or love, content to drift along in a shallow, if physically satisfying relationship. Whenever Tom manifests any complications, Emily chooses ignorance, unwilling to invest emotionally, carefully aloof. This is the summer before college, the ending of one part of her life, not quite the beginning of another: "I helped myself to all the power of being loved, withy none of the cost to myself."

Emily's parents coexist in a constant state of tension; her father keeps his clothing in the bedroom closet, but sleeps in the guest room, husband and wife's conversations threaded with sarcasm. In contrast, Tom's mother is brittle and angry, her bitterness infecting everyone around her. Suddenly, Emily finds herself longing for intimacy, tired of her parent's stoicism and put off by Andrea's tragic self-indulgence. Emily's social life has always revolved around a clique of club kids, "a them and us fiction... all it was in reality was the possession of Class A and B drugs". When Emily begins a clandestine affair with Simon, her attention is focused on him and she still believes the world will bend to her wishes. This young woman's moral quandary is resolved, if not to her liking, shaped more by reality than fantasy, an indelible lesson: "Blame... is there waiting in your own mind, when you are ready to read it".

But Emily's revival from the dark well of her own ego is tainted by the cost to others, an egocentric girl who has avoided reality, seeking comfort in isolation and passivity. The romance awakens this Sleeping Beauty from a long summer of self, but the affair is rendered almost incidental to her newly realized emotional maturity. Stevenson has a particular knack for the young, hip English dialog, in this case, Emily's ongoing inner commentary as she is swept into her love affair with a married man that erases all her boundaries. This deceptively simple story excises the frail pretensions of youth, finally betrayed by the human flaws that determine our commitments and the consequences of our actions. Emily's coming-of-age is fraught with pain, but significant and impressive, her passport into a more effective adulthood. Stevenson should not be underestimated, her prose both incisive and insightful, diving below the surface of facile relationships to expose fears, denials and shattered dreams. Luan Gaines/2005.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How Do You Define Love? Aug. 29 2005
By Howard Goldowsky - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
How do you define love? This question and other heady topics form the foundation for Stevenson's debut novel. Stevenson's characters are well rendered, with both their internal emotional lives and their relationships to each other masterly crafted. Stevenson doesn't show pity for her characters. She is honest with their emotions; she tells the truth.

On the surface, AN EMPTY ROOM is about a 19-year-old narrator and how she leaves a sinking relationship with her dead-end boyfriend to enter an affair with her ex-boyfriend's married cousin. Every parent in the novel is either divorced or in a stale marriage; they are all plagued with previous infidelity. This fact weighs heavy with the narrator as she struggles with the hypocrisy of her own affair and the family histories all around her. Stevenson nicely weaves these emotional issues, which form the foundation of the book, with the exterior plot.

The previous reader, who thought Stevenson overused similes and metaphors, is a bit harsh. Stevenson's writing technique is nothing short of excellent. Her style is not sparse; it is more elaborate, like Eggers or Zadie Smith. There are even some passages where Stevenson quotes Voltaire, and these lines are some of the finest in the book. Talitha Stevenson has a promising future ahead of her and I look forward to reading more of her work.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good plot but college sophomore writing Feb. 7 2005
By Monysmom - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The idea of this book was very good - she should have taken it and run with it. Instead, it comes off like a college kid's composition paper, trying to sound grown-up with an eye towards having the absolute most similes and metaphors per page ever. If you get past the pretentiousness and find this debut author a new editor, she should be very good.
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