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So Much For That

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I started this book this morning having read We Need to Talk about Kevin earlier in the year. I am about fifty pages in so far and it is already obvious to me that the two books were written by the same author. Shriver has an ability to use ten words where most people would use one or two. When RG read We Need to Talk about Kevin after me to see what all the fuss was about he found the mass of language used a bit annoying. It did not bother me although other readers had also commented on Shriver's over-use of words.

 

So Much for That opens with one of the main Storytellers, Shep Knacker, packing a case to leave home. He is in his late forties and has always planned to leave his present life and the rat-race behind and move to another country with a simpler lifestyle. He has bought three one way air tickets to fly to a remote island half the way around the world in the hope that his wife and fifteen year old son will come with him. He plans to move in with his best friend for the two weeks leading up to the flights thus enabling his wife to decide her future herself. However his plans change when his wife comes home and he presents her with the tickets. It seems she has news of her own and calmly states that she is going to need his health insurance. She has a major health problem although it has has not been stated so far exactly what form of problem this is. Shep is now not only changing his plans for his future but his whole view of life and it is only now when there is a chance that he will lose Glynis, his wife, that he is beginning to realise how much she means to him.

 

I feel as if the scene for this book has been set very well and I suspect, like We Need to Talk about Kevin, So Much for That is going to be a less than easy book to read.

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 Shriver has an ability to use ten words where most people would use one or two.

That was why i couldn't get on with We Need To Talk About Kevin.  I got completely bogged down.

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That was why i couldn't get on with We Need To Talk About Kevin.  I got completely bogged down.

I am about a quarter of the way through this book and am trying not to get too "bogged down" by all the language and information Shriver finds it necessary to throw at me.

 

The story is continuing to be told by Shep, the husband of Glynis who is suffering from a rare form of cancer, and Jackson, Shep's best friend. What I do not understand about this writer is her need to complicate everything about her story. Not only does Glynis have to have a form of cancer, mesothelioma, which few people have probably heard of but the daughter of Jackson and his wife Carol has to suffer from a rare degenerative disease, which again I suspect few people have heard of. I am sure that the concept of Shriver's writing could be conveyed to her readers just as easily if Glynis and Flicka were suffering from conditions we could all understand. Unfortunately I am finding that some of the observations she is trying to make regarding both sufferers of life threatening conditions and the way in which those close to them deal with it are getting rather lost amidst all her verbosity.

 

Another aspect of Shriver's writing I find difficult to understand is her need to almost alienate her readers from her characters. Although I understand that a reader does not always have to like the characters of a book to enjoy it I do feel that, especially with a book dealing with such issues as a life threatening condition as So Much For That does, the reader does need to be able to at least empathise with the characters. I feel that by presenting the reader with such disfunctional and often unlikable characters and by complicating everything Shriver is distancing the reader from the situation she is trying to convey.

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I haven't read this book, but I have read three others by Lionel Shriver. I agree that her characters are not likeable; but neither are all of them completely without redeeming features. Shriver writes satire; if I have a criticism of her work, it is that each novel seems to contain two key themes that feel as though they are being ticvked off from a longer list. But I have never had a problem with books where I dislike the characters; the fatal quality is if there are no characters about whom I care.

 

Lionel Shriver is certainly verbose, but that is going to be a matter of personal taste. I like her writing and find it very funny; I like the juxtaposition of pomp to describe mundane things and bold understatement to describe the important.

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I haven't read this book, but I have read three others by Lionel Shriver. I agree that her characters are not likeable; but neither are all of them completely without redeeming features. Shriver writes satire; if I have a criticism of her work, it is that each novel seems to contain two key themes that feel as though they are being ticvked off from a longer list. But I have never had a problem with books where I dislike the characters; the fatal quality is if there are no characters about whom I care.

 

Lionel Shriver is certainly verbose, but that is going to be a matter of personal taste. I like her writing and find it very funny; I like the juxtaposition of pomp to describe mundane things and bold understatement to describe the important.

I agree, MisterHobgoblin, that the characters of a book do not have to be likable for a book to be a good read. My problem with the two Shriver books I have attempted so far is that I am struggling to care or empathise with any of the characters. As this book continues Shep, the husband of the women with the cancer, is beginning to grow on me and I am beginning to feel something for him. As I have admited on other threads I am a bit of an emotional reader and do like to care at least a bit about the outcome of a book. I do realise that such thoughts are down to personal choice and that an author is not going to please everyone.

 

As far as her use of language is concerned I am finding that it has bothered me more at the beginning of this book than it did in We Need To Talk About Kevin in which I actually quite liked her writing style. My only problem with the style of writing in this book and her over complication of both Glynis and Flicka's conditions is that it seems to distance characters that I want to feel something for from me. With We Need To Talk About Kevin for most of the book I was never going to be able to put myself in Eva's shoes and did not expect to be able to. With So Much For That I feel that I should be more able to understand the places in which the characters find themselves. I just feel that in places Shriver's verbosity makes that more difficult to do.

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I should have added that I have heard of mesothelioma. I guess it's hard to tell whether it is widely known - you either know it or you don't - but it is the lung cancer caused by asbestos. It does get into the news from time to time.

 

In terms of putting yourself into the shoes of characters, when it comes to healthcare it is hard to put oneself into the position of an American character if you are not American - their healthcare system with its reliance on "user pays" is dissimilar to health systems in other developed countries, and I guess that's what Shriver was writing about.

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At the moment the helath insurance aspect of the book is only just beginning to make itself known. When I stated that I feel as if I could empathise with the situations that both Glynis and Shep find themselves in I was referring more to the fact that I and RG have also been married for many years and you do wonder how you would cope. I do not think that it matters what nationality you are to feel for those in such situations.

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The more I read of this book, I am now about half way through, the more I feel as if my perceptions of the book are changing. As I have stated on previous threads regarding other novels, I never read the back of a book before reading so when I started this novel I genuinely thought that it was about a husband and wife struggling to come to terms with her terminal illness and a mother and father dealing with a daughter with a degenerative disease. I am now beginning to feel that the two stories are simply a backdrop and the real story lies in the system in which they live. The health insurance aspect of the book is beginning to play more and more of a part, Glynis wishes to sue those responsible for her condition and Jackson does nothing but rant about it all. I feel as if he plays the part played by The Fool in Shakespeare's King Lear, there to entertain but impart wisdom as he does.

 

I am not sure whether it is the system and lifestyle of these people that Shriver dislikes or the people the system produces themselves although I suspect it is mainly the system. Having read a number of books by George Eliot who always liked to portray all aspects of her character's natures, no character being a complete hero or a complete villan, I have come to the conclusion that George Eliot had a great love of her fellow man. I am not sure that that is true with Lionel Shriver alhough in a weird way I am finding that many of the characters within this book are beginning to grow on me!

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I haven't read this book, but I have read three others by Lionel Shriver. I agree that her characters are not likeable; but neither are all of them completely without redeeming features. Shriver writes satire; if I have a criticism of her work, it is that each novel seems to contain two key themes that feel as though they are being ticked off from a longer list. But I have never had a problem with books where I dislike the characters; the fatal quality is if there are no characters about whom I care.

 

Lionel Shriver is certainly verbose, but that is going to be a matter of personal taste. I like her writing and find it very funny; I like the juxtaposition of pomp to describe mundane things and bold understatement to describe the important.

 

I am, coincidentally, currently reading Shriver's Big Brother, which I agree to a certain extent feels like a novel about an issue pulled from a list; in this case, obesity and loyalty to siblings over marriage.

 

It is only the second Shriver novel I've read (...Kevin being the other) and the voice is certainly distinctive; in this case, it might be that there are parallels between the first person narrators of the two novels. I can't say I especially find her verbose, although there are diversions in Big Brother which, whilst well written, don't do much to push the story forward. With prose as entertaining as Shriver's, I can forgive her for this.          

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I am getting on for three quarters of my way through this book and once again my perceptions of the book are changing. We are beginning to see her illness and possible near future death from the point of view of Glynis herself. She is angry and hates the fact that her husband and those who do visit, the number of which are declining as her illness drags on, treat her with kid gloves. It is as if she has almost become a non-person with whom nobody seems capable of having a normal conversation. Her husband jumps to fullfil her every need or want no matter how unreasonable they may be.

 

The reader also sees a little of how it is for friends and family. To start with they all rush to visit and offer help. None of the visits are easy as visitors are not sure how to be and Glynis herself almost seems to enjoy making the situation as difficult for them as possible. As the one long term friend who still visits or phones fairly regularly asks Shep "exactly what can she talk about?". Glynis does not want to hear the complaints of others as she feels that she has much more to compain about. She does not wish to hear of their everyday lives and all that other people are doing as she is unable to take part in ordinary life herself. She also does not wish to talk about her illness as there is little good news and she often feels that her friends and family are only asking because they are curious about how it all feels rather than caring for her.

 

I think that the reactions of both Glynis, her family and friends are portrayed very well. Certainly a high point of the book for me so far.

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I finished this book yesterday morning before leaving home for work and have been ruminating about it ever since. In truth I am not sure how I feel about it! When I read We Need To Talk About Kevin I did not consider it to be written as as satire but took took it at face value. Having read the comments of both MrH and Grammath I started to view So Much For That a little differently and began to read it as a work of satire. I do not think that Shriver has any desire for her characters to be likable or even for her readers to be able to empathise with them in any way. That is not the point of the book. She is simply having a rant about the system of health insurance in the US and so makes the situation as complicated as possible and some of the characters as awful as possible.

 

The book certainly held my attention and when I gave up on trying to feel anything for any of the characters I found the elements of black humour quite amusing in places. When about half way through the book I decided that I would not read another Lionel Shriver book but having now come to the end I am not so sure. My only problem may be that if every one of her books is simply a different rant on a different social topic her writing could become a bit wearing after a while.

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