After reading ‘Bunny’ by Mona Awad last year and having the experience of stumbling through a surreal but entertaining fever dream, I knew I had to pick up her next novel ‘All’s Well’. I was intrigued by how this book discussed the idea of chronic pain, and specifically, how that interlinks with misogyny and visibility. The main character of this book faces extreme suffering, and yet, the people around her find her pain difficult to believe. ‘All’s Well’ is both claustrophobic and delightful, not a read for everyone, but I wholeheartedly enjoyed it.
From the critically acclaimed author of Bunny, a darkly funny novel about a theater professor suffering chronic pain, who in the process of staging a troubled production of Shakespeare’s most maligned play, suddenly and miraculously recovers.
Miranda Fitch’s life is a waking nightmare. The accident that ended her burgeoning acting career left her with excruciating, chronic back pain, a failed marriage, and a deepening dependence on painkillers. And now she’s on the verge of losing her job as a college theater director. Determined to put on Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, the play that promised, and cost, her everything, she faces a mutinous cast hellbent on staging Macbeth instead. Miranda sees her chance at redemption slip through her fingers.
That’s when she meets three strange benefactors who have an eerie knowledge of Miranda’s past and a tantalizing promise for her future: one where the show goes on, her rebellious students get what’s coming to them, and the invisible, doubted pain that’s kept her from the spotlight is made known.
With prose Margaret Atwood has described as “no punches pulled, no hilarities dodged…genius,” Mona Awad has concocted her most potent, subversive novel yet. All’s Well is the story of a woman at her breaking point and a formidable, piercingly funny indictment of our collective refusal to witness and believe female pain.
Miranda Fitch was involved in an accident that ended her blossoming acting career and left her with excruciating pain. The consequences on her life were devastating, and she’s now facing a failed marriage, lost friends, a precarious job, and a reliance on painkillers. She’s determined to put on All’s Well That Ends Well, a play that she has obsessively focused on as the one that cost her everything. Unfortunately, she faces a mutinous cast who desperately want to stage Macbeth instead. When she meets three strange figures in the local bar, who offer her a chance for change, she doesn’t refuse. However, no bargain ever comes without a cost.
Mona Awad’s writing straddles the line between slow-paced and choppy. The style is odd, but it accentuates the surreal, dream-like nature of her works. ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’ is known as one of Shakespeare’s problem plays, in that it exists in a sort of liminal space between tragedy and comedy, with dislikeable characters, and a strange, divisive ending. Mona Awad has masterfully incorporated these features into the book alongside a variety of Shakespearean references. This book is purposefully confusing and ambiguous, with an unreliable main character who dips between intense depression and extreme mania; it’ll trap you in its pages.
The dominant themes of ‘All’s Well’ focus on the idea of women’s suffering, desperation, and believability. Chronic pain is a notoriously difficult disorder to understand as it often has no obvious cause. It’s difficult to treat, it’s difficult to diagnose, and it wholly depends on believing the account of the individual. This is why many people with chronic pain struggle intensely to be understood and believed. It is intensified for people who are impacted by misogyny, as our society has internalised the idea that women are overemotional and likely to exaggerate. Mona Awad tackles this phenomenon in detail within the book. She describes how Miranda is disbelieved by both the doctors she visits, and the people around her. Miranda is so intensely desperate for her pain to be believed, for her suffering to be visible, but she also realises she can’t show too much, or the ugly reality of pain will cause people to step back from her.
The theme of believability was further exemplified through Miranda’s character, and the choice to have her be unreliable and unlikeable. Often disabled people in books have to be viewed through a lens of respectability. They have to be inspirational, kind, and determined. Miranda is not respectable. She’s angry, she pushes people away, she’s selfish, she’s stubborn, at times she’s a downright horrible character to read about. You feel intense sympathy for how the world has treated her, how much suffering she is needlessly put through, but it’s also difficult to be sympathetic for her; she’s deeply frustrating. When you combine that with how unreliable a character she is, Miranda becomes a character that is difficult to believe. This was my favourite aspect of the book. You have to think about the believability of Miranda’s experiences, even as you become angry at the way she hasn’t been believed in the past. You have to answer the question; do you believe her?
‘All’s Well’ is an engrossing, wild read that’s not afraid to plunge deeply into strangeness. Although this novel is likely to be divisive due to the eccentricity of its writing style and an ever-twisting final act, it’s a worthwhile read to those who enjoy dark, strange books.
CW: drug use, addiction, suicidal thoughts, medical trauma
(Thanks to Simon and Schuster and Netgalley for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review)
Mona Awad was born in Montreal and has lived in the US since 2009. Her debut novel, 13 WAYS OF LOOKING AT A FAT GIRL (Penguin Books, 2016), won the Amazon Best First Novel Award and was shortlisted for the Giller Prize. Her second novel, BUNNY (Viking, 2019), was a finalist for a GoodReads Choice Award for Best Horror, the New England Book Award and the Massachusetts Book Award. It won the Ladies of Horror Fiction Best Novel Award. Her latest novel, ALL’S WELL, is forthcoming with Simon & Schuster on August 3rd, 2021.
All’s Well is out now so there’s never been a better time to grab a copy!
If you want to remember to check out this book you should Add to Goodreads or Storygraph!
You can order the book from major retail sites such as Blackwell’s
I’d recommend checking out your local indie bookshop!
6 thoughts on “A Mesmerizing, Surreal Account of Chronic Pain and Believability // All’s Well Review”
bertie! omg all’s well sounds like such a wonderful book, i’m really glad you enjoyed it. i need to check out bunny soon as well, so i’m happy you loved it! great review ❤️
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thank you!!! it was really great! i hope you enjoy Mona Awad’s stuff if you pick it up, I think it’s quite divisive just because it’s very strange 😅💕
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This book has been on my TBR since it was announced! As someone who lives with chronic pain and is a die-heart Shakespeare fan, I’m thoroughly intrigued! Your review has me even more excited to pick up a copy!
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Oooo I hope you enjoy it! It’s definitely a weird book but it’s great if you just accept you’re in for a wild ride 😅🥰