Lionel Shriver does satires. In this case, she lampoons fitness fanaticism, especially when coupled with advancing old age. Her particular target is Remington Alabaster, a prematurely retired city planner who fills the gap in his life by training to run a marathon.
I'll be honest, this is not a topic I realised was in need of lampooning. These marathon runners don't really do me any harm aside, possibly, from some questionable taste in colour schemes for their leisure wear. But having selected her rather soft target, Shriver hits her mark. Remington cuts a ridiculous figure blowing his meagre retirement funds on professional level equipment, never letting his lack of natural athletic ability stand in the way of his ambitions. He is a pompous, middle class intellectual who surrounds himself with other "athletes" with whom he seems to have nothing in common. Meanwhile, his wife Serenata Terpsichore is a woman who has been fit and athletic all her life but is now facing knee replacement surgery to rescue her mobility.
As with many of her novels, The Motion of Body Through Space unfolds mostly in comic dialogue between the main protagonists interspersed by intentionally overwritten observational stuff. It creates a sense of farce that starts off quite gentle and builds through the novel. I found the sweet spot somewhere in the middle - specifically the chapter describing Remington's departure from the Albany Department of Transport. It was slow getting to that point - the connection with the characters is not immediate - but once that point was reached it broadened the feel beyond fitness into political correctness and ageing.
This is not a profound novel. It's not Kevin. Nor is it light reading. It is a kind of intellectual humour that verges on sneering and can sound like Lionel Shriver sermonising. The quality of the writing and humour pulls it through, though, and makes for an entertaining read.
review of The Mandibles: A Family 2029 - 2047 by Lionel Shriver
Lionel Shriver's novel is set in the future, America is on foot of economic collapse, electiricity and water shortages are common, clean water considered a luxury not to use to wash your hands with, ed balls is now prime minister of britain (maybe his upcoming Strictly Come Dancing appearance will bring popularity back) and the dollar is struggling against the Chinese and Russian creation of the Bancor.
The Mandibles are a family. You have the 97 year old patriach in a nursing home, married to a woman more than 30 years his junior who is going through dementia. The matriarch is seldom seen Then there is the son, Carter, a former journalist (now that there are no newspapers left, his use is to wait for his inheritance) and his expat sister, Nollie who is single woman and an author living in France(yes, it's one of the few things that annoyed me Nollie being an anagram of Lionel but anyway, it's not a big annoyance). Carter has 2 daughters, Avery and Florence. Avery is married to a tenured Economics professor and they have 3 children, the eldest a daughter preparaing shortly to go to college and 2 sons, Good and Bing while Florence is in a relationship with Esteban and has a son Willing. The novel is about a upper middle class family who through this economic crash sees their inheritance dwindle to nothing (gold stock which are nationalised by the government and treasury bonds, nullified by the government in "the great forgiveness) and then the coping of them to survive on what they can get through as the middle class collapses along with society, a struggle for survival ensues
At the end of the day, I think Shriver enjoyed herself in imagining the worse possible situation (there is a quote from the economist in the novel that "plots set in the future are about what people fear most in the present". The enjoyment Shriver had in writing it, comes out with the reading of the novel and as a result of this, I enjoyed the novel too. I did prefer Big Brother but this is a very good novel too. I hope that while the future painted by Shriver is bleak, it doesn't come to pass and Shriver is having fun, as the reader it beckoned me to enjoy the novel in the fun darkly comic way that Shriver intended, I did. This is a good book
It’s a little known fact that Lionel Shriver lived in Belfast for 12 years from 1987-1999. I shared a city with her and never knew – OMG.
Anyway, shortly into her sojourn in the North, Lionel Shriver published a Troubles novel called The Bleeding Heart – later re-issued under the title Ordinary Decent Criminals. It was not a success. As Lionel Shriver herself acknowledges half way through the book, saying “the North was a tiny, exclusive Hell: only one and a half million people on earth would get your jokes”. So probably writing a book full of jokes about the North designed to offend and alienate all of those one and a half million people in equal measure was never going to end well…
And Ordinary Decent Criminals is very funny. There are caricatures of the various political factions, paramilitary groupings, religious bigots, soldiers, peace brokers and writers. They are universally drunken, mediocre, unfaithful and have flexible morality. Shriver’s central thesis is that the Troubles were not, for the most part, terribly troublesome and the people of the North got off on pretending to be scary hard-men when going to great lengths to avoid actually inflicting real damage. Even the Enniskillen bomb is portrayed as a terrible mistake based on the timer being prepared without taking the end of daylight savings into account. Thus, she seems to argue, the paramilitary activity that did take place was more the work of ordinary decent criminals hiding behind a veneer of political respectability.
The story itself is Estrin, a young American woman who has spent the past decade wandering the globe, landing up running a squalid hoods’ bar in West Belfast. She catches the eye of Farrell O’Phelan, a freelance bomb disposal engineer who has come to be seen as a celebrity-expert on The Troubles, assisting and irritating both traditions in equal measure. Farrell has a plan to bring peace to the North, in all probability paving the way for his schoolfriend Angus McBride to become Secretary of State in a power sharing Executive. The story feels quite convoluted for something that ought really to be straightforward, and does tend to be used as an opportunity for political grandstanding. After a couple of hundred pages, the reader is left feeling that the story is drifting somewhat, whilst the big political point has already been made.
For all that, there are enough wry observations; namechecks of familiar shops and bars; overt references to real people; and a crystallisation of political thinking in the years immediately preceding the actual ceasefires that make ODCs worth sticking with. This is an important slice of cultural history, augmented by a satirical and entertaining glossary at the end that many readers may not notice.
I suspect ODCs is more than loosely autobiographical. Estrin looks very much like Shriver, torn between observing the community and becoming part of it. It is not a perfect novel, but it does demonstrate a deep and mature understanding of both the history and the c.1990 present of Northern Ireland, presumably the product of many afternoons in the Linenhall Library. It offers a different perspective to the many novels written by Northern Ireland’s own authors and supports this perspective with authentic detail.
The novel deserves to be better known, but finding an audience is always going to be difficult. When I asked Lionel Shriver to sign my first edition some years ago, I told her that I loved reading Northern Ireland novels. She replied ruefully that nobody else seemed to.
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.
Big Brother By Lionel Shriver
So why did i read this? The biggest determinant to it was that I had seen the excellent film version of another of Ms Shriver's novels we need to talk about kevin
In this, Pandora Halfdanarson is a successful entrepreneur with her Baby Monotonous company (expensive personalised dolls with 10-20 catchphrases of a person loaded into it). She is married to a Seed salesman come Carpenter, Fletcher and Flethcher have two kids from his first married, Tanner , 17 going on 18 and Cody, in her early teens. Pandora also has a brother in New York and a sister in California, Edison and Solstice and her father was an actor and had a long running sitcom during their youth, Joint Custody and know seems bitter towards everything and being ignored. Edison is a jazz musician in New York while Fletcher is a health junkie.
After a friend of Edison's rings her for help, Pandora arranges for Edison to visit the family for two months and she is shocked at how big her big brother had got since the last time she saw him. He is morbidly obese and she doesn't even recognise him in the airport. Soon with the health junkie, Edison is driving the family crazy with his cooking and leeching off his siter and he breaks one of the chairs that Fletcher has made.
Her home life seems to be parrallelled by the characters of joint custody, and Pandora's fictional self was the unremarkable middle daughter of the family with the prodigious jazz paino brother. Part of her escape to Iowa, is to get away from this.
Shriver's narrative style is very absorbing and I found this to be wonderfully written and a very enjoyable read. While dealing with the real issue, she does a great job at making it humorous at the same time which is great. A very enjoyable captivating read.