Tag Archives: Lionel Shriver

Death and dying with Lionel Shriver – So Much For That

After enjoying We Need to Talk about Kevin hugely, I was looking forward to this as one of my beach reads this Summer.  Well of course, there is the usual problem of how can you follow up such a dramatic book,  you can’t really, but once you get into this it is a good read.  It highlights some of the major injustices and  inequalities of health care in America and also examines the idea of whether you can change your life by moving to another country.  It also asks a fundamental question – how much should you pay for a human life?  Is it worth paying $2 million to extend a life three months if someone is terminally ill?

The story deals with Shep, a handyman who has always paid his taxes, abided by the rules and respected authority.  After years of planning to emigrate he finally buys one way plane tickets to Pemba an island in Tanzania, but his plans are scuppered when his wife tells him she has a rare form of cancer and she needs to use his health insurance.  Shep is so ridiculously nice that he has spent his whole life letting others take advantage of him, he pays for his wife and sister to follow their vocations and essentially never work.  As he says in the book, why is it those who have never earned any money themselves that accuse people of being money obsessed?  You are just desperate for him to tell his unbelievably selfish sister Beryl to sod off.  The book also has a particularly horrific penis enlargement.  The focus however is on three key characters and their fight to stay alive and maintain some dignity.  Each chapter shows Shep’s dwindling bank account as he pays more and more money to fight Glynis’ cancer and to pay for his father’s care home, despite the fact he has health insurance.

It makes you so angry that a country as supposedly developed as America can treat its people like this.  The novel briefly refers to the  history of the health insurance system and how Truman tried to introduce a free health care system but opponents branded it ‘state socialism’ which in paranoid 1950s  Communist America was enough to finish it off.

For someone who changed their own life by moving abroad, in my case running off to the Seychelles I enjoyed the fact that it tackles the question of whether this is just running away or a great way to change your life.  The book ends optimistically with the idea that yes, it is great – so do it now!

It shows a more realistic view of cancer and challenges the idea that if you ‘fight’ the disease you will win and that if you die, you have failed.  It is overlong in places but an enjoyable and thoughtful read,

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We need to talk about Kevin – not recommended if you are thinking of having children!

Most people have heard of this book and I was always put off by a controversial book and didn’t think I would find the story of an American boy killing his classmates much fun.  However once you get through the first few bleak chapters you start to get sucked into the story and it becomes a real page turner.  It is one of the most shocking books I have read in years, when I finished the last page I literally sat there with my mouth open for ages.

We know from the start about Kevin´s evil act (and the back of the books tell you) but there are lots of twists and turns along the way.   As soon as Kevin is born to his middle-class parents he is seen to be disconnected (admittedly from his mother´s perspective)  and he really does seem like an evil boy, just as you think it can’t get worse, then it does.  The novel revolves around nature or nurture – is Kevin completely maladjusted because of his parents, in particular his mother or is it just the way he was born.  As someone who doesn’t have children I found it terrifying, Shriver shows candidly a woman´s problem with adjusting to parenthood and challenges the idea of the maternal instinct and  an all-encompassing love of your child.  I kept seeing myself in Eva the mother so now can´t have a baby or it will be like Kevin.

Without wanting to give things away, when Celia comes along it does help to redeem Eva as being at fault, but I felt the incident with the bleach was a step too far, surely that would have been the time that any mother would have stepped in and done something?  The twist at the end does depend on Shriver deliberately misleading the reader so in some ways it is a weakness of the book but overall it seems to work.  I thought this was one of the most interesting books I have read in a long time and recommend it – it definitely makes you think.

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