While some critics have attempted to read A. L. Kennedy's early short stories and novels within paradigms of nationality and gender, most acknowledge that they refuse to settle into these categories. Her pre-2000 fiction has more often been read as concerning itself with isolated individuals and the limits of community and communication. David Borthwick, for example, has said that Night Geometry and the Garscadden Trains (1990) is like ‘an early manifesto of her work’ which repeatedly returns to the topic of the ‘psychological vortex of its subjects’ through which ‘the reader must reconstruct the characters’ identities according to an idiosyncratic logic’. Others have commented on Kennedy's concern with ‘defeated individuals’ who exist ‘within a void, defined by social invisibility’ and who suffer from ‘ontological anguish’. While some have seen potentially redemptive features in her fiction, on the whole it has been defined in terms of isolation and social dis-ease in a world ‘close to [the reader's] own bleaker and inadequate experiences’.
Correspondingly, Kennedy's style has been linked to postmodern concerns with the limitations of language and communication, ‘as though the writing was itself involved in an attempt to snag against the very thing it describes’. Both in its focus on alienated individuals who cannot communicate with the world around them, and in its narrative style, which draws attention to the fractures and incoherencies of language, Kennedy's work thus has been read in broadly postmodern terms. This view has arisen in acknowledgement of its essentially self-reflexive nature and its concern with the limits of communication, both within and outwith the fictional world.
In 1999, however, Kennedy published Everything You Need, a novel that was very different from any that she had written before. At over five hundred pages, Everything You Need is significantly longer than her earlier work and, as its title suggests, it brings together a wealth of fictional material. For a number of critics this novel marks a move away from the template that had formed the basis of Kennedy's success, and they voiced disappointment: ‘one suspects that Kennedy has failed to understand her own literary strengths and capacities,’ commented Philip Tew. ‘Kennedy has lost her naïveté.’