Lionel Shriver Book Reviews

Lionel Shriver (or as she was born - Margaret Ann), writes eye-opening and fantastic books. OurBookClub was introduced to Shriver in "We Need to Talk About Kevin" which had us riveted, so much that we went back and read Lionel Shrivers' earlier books and have become huge fans ever since. The books are all individually written, so you don't need to read them as a series or in any specific order. This is part of what makes her so fantastic - how does Shriver continue to come up with such totally diverse subjects, but research them to provide you with an absorbing and interesting factual account. Certainly the hallmark of a great author.

Lionel Shriver just has a way with characters, they are surprising but gripping and this is part of why her books are so fascinating. The character interactions and how they mimic real life, yet continue to surprise the reader as they journey through the story. Her books cover extremely uncomfortable subjects - divorce, immigration, mass-murdering sons and health care. Do yourself a favour and read her books, we can't recommend them highly enough.

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
Big Brother
The New Republic by Lionel Shriver
The New Republic
So Much For That by Lionel Shriver
So Much For That
The Post Birthday World
The Post Birthday World
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Double Fault by Lionel Shriver
Double Fault
A Perfectly Good Family by Lionel Shriver
A Perfectly Good Family
Game Control by Lionel Shriver
Game Control
Ordinary Decent criminals by Lionel Shriver
Ordinary Decent criminals
Checker and the Derailleurs by Lionel Shriver
Checker and the Derailleurs
The Female of the Species by Lionel Shriver
The Female of the Species

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

Read by Tracy in June 2013

Tracy recommends this as an all consuming read about obesity, family and guilt

Okay I am a massive fan of Lionel Shriver and have either loved or hated all her books. She managed to write about issues of the day and draws you into her stories that it is difficult to believe she is not writing autobiographically. However, after writing We Need to Talk About Kevin and for me, the even better So Much for That. Maybe it's Shriver's own fault. She doesn't make life easy for herself with her choice of subject matter. Mass murder, snooker, the US healthcare system Ė who but Shriver could pull off a novel about terminal cancer that's angry, yes, but also warmly, movingly upbeat? And now, obesity. But despite the unpromising theme, this one, like the rest, is really about love, loss, family Ė ordinary human beings struggling to do the right thing by one another. It's also possibly her very best. It must be incredibly hard to keep the spark alight, but she does not disappoint with Big Brother which is a book targetting obesity, one of the biggest health issues of today and combined a story of guilt, familial ties and the weight loss industry.

Summary: For Pandora, cooking is a form of love. Alas, her husband, Fletcher, a self-employed high-end cabinetmaker, now spurns the "toxic" dishes that heíd savoured through their courtship and spends hours manically cycling. Then, when Pandora picks up her older brother Edison at the airport, she doesnít recognize him. In the years since theyíve seen one another, the once slim, hip New York jazz pianist has gained hundreds of pounds. What happened? After Edison has more than overstayed his welcome, Fletcher delivers his wife an ultimatum: Itís him or me. Rich with Shriverís distinctive wit and ferocious energy, Big Brother is about fat: an issue both social and excruciatingly personal. It asks just how much sacrifice we'll make to save single members of our families, and whether it's ever possible to save loved ones from themselves.

My Review: Now based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 40 year old Pandora Halfdanarson loves to cook as well as managing a highly successful business producing novelty custom "Baby Monotonous" dolls, which are programmed with the recipients' oft-repeated platitudes. The business has helped her become financially successful and also famous. Her husband of 7 years, Fletcher Feuerbach, is a furniture craftsman who is unable to sell his gorgeous hand crafted furniture due to the economic crisis, has two children for a previous marriage that ended badly after his ex-wife became hooked on crystal meth. Fletcher is a health nut who, it seems, spends all his waking moments not letting an unhealthy calorie pass his lips and the rest of the time either manically cycling or being a killjoy. Pandora's brother, Edison, was a former high-school track star, chick magnet and once-successful jazz pianist whoís played with a number of the greats, he has now hit the skids and worn-out his final couch-surfing welcome in New York. Although Pandora hasn't seen Edison for nearly four years, she sends him an airline ticket and invites him to stay with her family for a few months. At the airport she doesnít even recognize him, after all Edison now weighs nearly 400 pounds. As Edison settles into home life he disrupts their entire routines with his sarcasm and uncontrollable eating until breaking point is reached, literally, the first happens when Edison breaks a precious piece of Fletcher's furniture which is soon followed by a horrific bathroom blockage incident. Fletcher issues an ultimatum and Edison finally confides to Pandora that he has no upcoming gigs - nada. Fletcher puts is succinctly: "He's a sponger you're related to by accident. I'm your husband by choice. If you 'love' that loudmouth it's a kneejerk genetic thing; I'm supposed to be the real love of your life." While helping her brother pack his belongings, she makes a fateful decision: she will take Edison under her wing and help him get to his goal weight within a year. To do this, she must leave behind her home, husband and family and force Edison to confront his addiction to food. As Lionel Shriverís narrator in Big Brother tells her obese older sibling, after he claims he got hungry when she catches him mid-pig-out (spooning icing sugar from the carton), "You got something, and I donít know what itís called, but itís not called hungry.".

The majority of the book follows the weight loss journey of both Pandora and Edison and you watch them swap one addiction for another, where they become totally focused on a diet of meal replacement shakes. This terrifying liquid diet does start to work and the old Edison is soon being unveiled, however, the toll is huge. The concept of actual food becomes foreign and just as petrifying as anything they have faced before. Shriver handles these scenes wonderfully, I had never really thought of how addictive weight loss diets can be and the difficulty in leaving them behind. Coupled with the sheer boredom that was felt by Pamela and Edison as they become increasingly ostracised from friends, family and colleagues who start to feel uncomfortable eating around them. You start to wonder how far Shriver will go. All is not lost though as the weight starts to drop off Edison and Pandora start to look differently at their surroundings, suddenly they have more time to help others, start hobbies, introduce exercise - after all it isnít like they need to eat! Luckily Pandoraís friend Oliver finally says what others are thinking and breaks into Pandora and Edisonísí isolated world by introducing the ďstarvationĒ words which opens up a whole new series of angst ridden conversations and realisations. What you will never guess is the ending. It was dark, daring and shocking (not of the Kevin kind) and will no doubt polarize people in their thoughts. Either way it will change your whole point of view of the book.

This book is a personal journey for Shriver whose own older brother Greg, died from obesity complications in 2009 at the age of 55. As such I thought it would have been significantly cynical about the health industry, similar to So Much for That which would have seen her target the weight loss industry and discrimination, but it isn't. Instead it is a social commentary that leaves you thinking about so much more. Lionel Shriver gave an interesting interview of Andrew Goldman of The New York Times Magazine where she talks about her eating habits.

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The New Republic by Lionel Shriver

Read by Tracy in April 2012

Tracy recommends as a comical look at terrorism

The New Republic was written in 1998, but back then Lionel Shriver found it hard to get a book about terrorism published, especially not a terrorism book that has comic undertones. However, since them a lot has changed. Shriver was a finalist for the National Book Award with So Much for That and won the 2005 Orange Prize with We Need to Talk About Kevin which has also been recently adapted as a feature film. In addition the Post-Birthday World was a New York Times bestseller, all of which I am sure opens the door a bit more in the publishing world. Lionel Shriver has also been a favourite of OurBookClub since our inception. It was with huge anticipation that I waited for the pre-order delivery of this book.

Edward Kellogg has given up his career as a corporate lawyer to become a freelance journalist. As we gradually learn, Edward has never been a leader, constantly happy to follow in the footsteps of others and blame them for his shortcomings and his lack of friendships - he always rushed to dislike others before they disliked himself which veritably ensured they would indeed dislike him (pg 41). He approaches Toby Falconer, who he idolised at school, to put in a good word in for him at the National Record Newspaper and when Barrington Saddler mysteriously disappears, Edward is soon despatched to cover terrorism in Barba. Edward envisages that being a foreign correspondent is a life of glamorous parties. Barba is a struggling beard-liked piece of land off the bottom of Portugal and is the home to the terrorism group Soldados Ousados de Barba (SOB), has a relentless wind which causes the sand to strip your skin bare and only grows the hairy pear which seems to be the basis for its national inedible dish. Edward arrives and is immediately involved in a game of "how long can we go without saying the name of the man Edward replaced". Barrington is a man bigger than life who dominated the group of resident hacks, plus as Edwards soon finds out, Barrington is also the epitome of the man he wants to be. Alas since Saddler has disappeared the SOB has been very quiet and the hacks are slowly finding themselves about to be reassigned as world attention has been drawn to other more exciting areas. Eventually Edward starts to channel Barrington and finds himself uncovering Barrington's secrets and even starts to take on some of his personality. The hacks that surrounded Barrington are certainly much higher up the ladder than Edward and come from prestigious newspapers such as the Guardian, Reuters, Washington Post, New York Times and several freelance photographers/journalists, whereas Edward finds himself on a small retainer having to scrap together money just to make it to Barba. Edwards starts to find himself drawn to Nicola, the seemingly happy wife of billionaire some-time journalist Henry, who he believes Barrington had an affair with, much to the chagrin of her husband and starts to see her as the answer to his problems, alas all is not what it seems to be. He starts to become the centre of the group when they suspect Edward has uncovered Barrington's contact list and is soon writing some indepth articles that can only have been written with previously unknown SOB infiltrators.

There is a lot of truth in The New Republic, you can feel yourself understanding the difficulties of a country that is being shovelled money at via the European Union to bring them up to economic speed. Although I am sure in recent times this would have dried up a bit, we are all well aware of farmers being paid to stop farming. This huge amount of new funding has drawn a huge array of aid agencies doing the same thing as each other which is to assist the country spend as much money on high salaried consultants as possible, with very little trickling down to those that actually need it - sound familiar, here Shriver is drawing on some of her research from Game Control. As the story progresses you see Edward getting further and further into Barrington's plan and finding it difficult to control the outcomes until it eventually reaches its climax and we find out how deep the SOB and it's political arm, O Crema de Barbear will go to gain independence and to enforce its anti-immigration policies guided by the enigmatic leader Tomas Verdade. There is a great twist at the end, but I have to say, I was a bit disappointed with the book, maybe it was just the anticipation I built up around it. However, the idea that the media is in cahoots with some of terrorist groups doesn't actually sound that farfetched, after all, some newspapers will stop at nothing to get exposure, just look at the New of the World which thankfully is no more. Plus there is one thing you can say about Lionel Shriver, she certainly doesn't shy away from the hard hitting ideas and after all she did serve as a journalist in Northern Ireland during the troubles. It might not hit the spot all the time, but it is still an interesting look at terrorism that is driven by newspapers which are ultimately driven by our desire for gossip, innuendo and intrigue.

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So Much For That (2010)

Read by Tracy 2010 (OurBookClub book pick of the month for June 2010) and recommended for a novel that tackles topical issues in a dark comedic way

The latest Shriver novel which is a blistering attack on the American healthcare system and rightly so. This novel is a fantastic read that will just have you shaking your head in unbelievable amazement at the absurdity of the situation and how health insurance companies are so empowered that medical costs devastate supposedly "insured" families.

In So Much for That Shep Knacker has a plan; save enough money and leave America. Having finally settled on a destination (Pemba, off the coast of Zanzibar), he gives his wife an ultimatium - come with him or stay. She tells him she has cancer (a very rare form called familial dysautonomia) and he is forced to give up his dream and put any personal desires or future plans on hold while they battle not only the disease but the doctors and health insurance providers. We are also introduced to Shep's best friend (Jackson) whose first child has a degenerative hereditary disease, and to pay for the medical bills that his employer's company health insurance doesn't cover, his wife has to go back to work full-time at another company who provides a better health insurance scheme. Both families are being crushed by the strain of working just to pay the medical bills, where nothing seems to be covered under their health insurance and their relationships begin to disintegrate under the mounting pressure of seeing their savings disappear.

The book highlights the issues faced in accessing health care - no matter what way Shep turns, he is faced with some very personal questions regarding money and if he can actually afford to keep his wife alive. I was in tears towards the end and Shriver has again produced a book with an unexpected ending. On a personal note, I am baffled at how a country like America can end up with a health care system that only caters for the wealthy. It certainly makes you appreciate that our health care system has not gone down that path - yet!

Lionel Shrivers argues that the American government is fundamentally dysfunctional in their dealing with the US healthcare system and the lack of buy-in from the Obama government on reform.

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The Post Birthday World (2007)

Read by Tracy in January 2010 & Natalie in June 2008 and recommended to keep you guessing until the end

Shriverís follow-up novel to We Need to Talk About Kevin, snagging her a six-figure advance and nominated by Time magazine as one of the top 10 books for 2007. The Post Birthday World asks the question;can a kiss change the course of a life?

This book is totally different to Kevin, lacking the sensationalism, however, typical of Shriver's style in choosing a totally different topic. This is Shrivers eighth novel and again totally different to her previous books. The book shows the life of Irina McGovern, a children's book illustrator, married to Lawrence Trainer a terrorism expert, their relationship is based on tranquil domesticity. Every year they meet up with Jude and her husband Ramsey for Ramsey's birthday. One year, however, things change. Ramsey and Jude are divorced and with Lawrence away, Irina dines out with Ramsey alone. It is during this meal that the alternate plot develops. After much alcohol, Irina thinks "If Ramsey didn't kiss her, she was going to die". Does Irina stay with Lawrence or go with Ramsey. The book splits into two - one where Ramsey does kiss her and she embarks on a roller coaster of a life, in the other she turns away and stays within her cocooned love nest with Lawrence, ignoring outside events.

The two plotlines run parallel eventually converging (similar to the movie Sliding Doors). The plots are polar opposites which could be boring, but due to the total differences it was interesting, although I did prefer her story with Lawrence more interesting. Irina is obsessive and finds fault with both "soul mates", however the ending was a surprise and I loved it. I am not usually a romantic person, but believe that the ending was great.

On a broader scheme the novel also looks at the growth of terrorism and how it influences lives, careers and relationships. Some great 'what-if' scenarios to get discussions raging.

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We Need to Talk About Kevin (2003)

Read by Tracy in 2009 and Natalie in 2011 (OurBookClub book pick of the month for December 2011)

Highly recommended, in fact we can't recommend it enough

Tracy's reviewThis book won Shriver the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2005. For us this was a phenomenal book which we would never have picked up to read had it not been recommended to us so much. Were we glad - it had us from the start. This book is provocative and brilliantly written and will leave you thinking back and wondering if it was in some way biographical as it just hit the right chord on so many levels. Strangely enough this book was rejected by approximately 30 publishers before finally being released.

Is a child the product of nature or nurture? The book is narrated by Eva in a series of letters to her ex-husband (Franklin) about events leading up to and after her teenage son, Kevin, goes on a killing spree in his high school, murdering nine people. Eva spends the book trying to understand what led Kevin to this act. After similar high school killings in the US, this book made us realise these murderers have families and wonder what sparks that desire in someone so young. What is the trigger in children who apparently have everything. On the flip-side we wonder how can the parents not have known something was happening or noticed these violent tendancies before they escalated out of control. The letters take you into the guilt that Eva carries and continually tortures herself with. She also introduces the reader to the debate about nature versus nurture and in her case she believes that neither were responsible for shaping Kevin's character - he was simply born bad. It's hard not to feel sorry for her and how her life changed from a happy marriage with a brilliant career who was ambivalent at her impending motherhood to complete hell. Then there was her lack of bonding with Kevin and his total disregard for her which is flaunted in her face, and Kevin's reliance on his father for everything, who in return was devoted and could not accept that Kevin could do anything wrong. Eva loved both her husband and her younger daughter but the deception and savagery of Kevin strained their marriage to breaking point. The lack of empathy in Kevin was phenomenal - the treatment of his sister and disdain for everything and anyone. Shriver is a fantastic writer, the book gripped us and the ending has you reeling and in tears and was the best book we have read in a very long time. This book also discussed something that seems to be unapproachable by many other books - maternal ambivalence and possible post-natal depression. However in this book, Eva always states that she was unable to bond during pregnancy and felt nothing after the birth, seeming to understand that her experience was not as close as other parent/children bonds that have been written about. Eva's inability to bond with Kevin stems from her change in lifestyle - she went from a successful author who loved travelling and the city to a stay at home mum where she became resentful and angry. Eva ends up living an unending hell where she is perpetually assaulted and absued by the bereaved parents of the children that Kevin murdered in the Columbine-style killing spree. She spends her time replaying the raising of Kevin and whether she was at fault, whereas Kevin remains resentful and manipulative even in prison.

Due to the popularity of this book, Shriver has become famous. Strange turn of events, considering her agent reject We Need to Talk About Kevin which required Shriver to mail out her own book, finally finding a small publishing house that would take on this book.

Even Shriver herself has hesitations about the book in light of the recent American high school tragedies. This book makes the hairs on the back of your neck just stand on end.

The movie has just been released at the Cannes Film Festival 2011 and will be released worldwide in November 2011. It is described as a dark and visually arresting psychological horror movie, starring John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller and Tilda Swinton. The movie was particularly hard for Swinton who appears in almost every seen. The movie is said to remain true to the book (and was co-written by Shriver), journeying through Eva's life as a series of memories where you witness the development of Kevin. It is going to be very interesting to see just how they portray Eva and her relationship with Kevin.

Natalie's reviewI have to confess, although I bought this book back in 2007 and although Lionel Shriver is listed as one of Our Favourites, I have only just read it. Iím not sure why it took me so long, it had been recommended and hyped to me on so many occasions and whether I was afraid it wouldnít live up to expectations or maybe other books just got in the way, I donít know. But in light of the movie coming out, I thought I would finally sit down and read it. Iíll admit too, the first 50 or so pages did not make a good impression. I found it to be waffly and a little bit pretentious. But, I stuck with it and while I can safely say it was never going to be a book you would fall in love with, in the end it was unbelievably good, certainly worth the hype and recommendations.

We Need To Talk About Kevin is full of confronting and in some peopleís eyes, taboo subjects. Told entirely in the form of letters, written from Eva to her estranged husband Franklin, she describes their relationship, their decision to have a child, her pregnancy and the birth, Kevinís childhood and then the subsequent shooting he commits at his high school when he is just 15 years old. As Eva recounts her version of events, it is hard to feel much empathy for her. This is her story only, where neither Franklin nor Kevin has a chance to interject, and she tells it in a detached, almost superior manner that leaves you feeling cold towards her. Her reluctance to have a child in the first place, her almost devious manner in conceiving the child brought on by the fear of losing her husband. Her lack of any maternal feelings or attachment during the pregnancy or childbirth and of course her tempestuous and perhaps neglectful relationship with Kevin as he grows up. The letters move between the present as she copes with her life 2 years post the incident, visiting Kevin twice a week in jail, the only stimulation in her otherwise routine and depressingly constricted life; and the past as she recounts the events leading up to the fateful Thursday that changed everything.

Evaís self-flagellation and guilt is at times frustrating and often annoying. But it also raises the interesting topic of nature versus nurture. Did Kevin sense from the time of his conception that Eva was never really sure she wanted him, that she was never able to bond with him and truly love him? Or was he simply born bad and that no amount of good parenting was ever going to change that? Itís hard to say, perhaps a combination of both, but I was certainly surprised to find my feelings towards Eva changing throughout the book. Whatever the reason for Kevinís behaviour, it is clear he was a conniving, malicious little boy. Almost from the minute he was born, he wore one personality for his mother (perhaps the truest one) and one for his father. Tormenting Eva with his games including; wearing diapers until the age of 6, refusing to speak even though he was capable, refusing to admit to her he could read or write, knowingly destroying her precious memories of travel and her life pre-child and of course the secret surrounding his broken arm; Kevin was an extremely intelligent boy who knew how to hide his smarts in order to get what he wanted. Franklin, the devoted father and the parent who had most wanted the child, never saw this side of Kevin. The brief glimpses he did get where explained away as ďsomething all boys didĒ and his lack of support for and belief in his wife was truly heartbreaking to watch.

Despite her experiences with her first born, Eva elects to have a second child, if nothing else but to prove that Kevin truly is evil and not a product of her mothering. Perhaps not the best reason to have a child and when Celia arrives it is only a matter of time before something bad happens. A well behaved, albeit timid little girl, she is nothing like Kevin and as a result, completely adores him. Conceived secretly, Celia barely makes a dent in her fatherís heart and is clearly her motherís favourite and as a result, the target of Kevinís torments. As little things begin to happen, Eva tries to believe that it isnít Kevin. After all, why would Celia love a brother who does this to her, why would she protect him like this? Itís easy to see why and when a first-time babysitting job goes horrifically wrong it is devastating as the reader to watch it all unfold. The signs were all there, it was inevitable and Franklinís complete disregard of what happened and worse still, his willingness to so readily blame his wife for these events had me fuming. I couldnít understand why Franklin would act like this, how he could be so blind to what was going on around him. But surprisingly, another big source of my anger was with Eva. How she could have stayed and allowed these events to unfold. Why didnít she just pick up her daughter and run. Run from the son who so clearly hated her and the husband who was detaching himself from a wife he openly admitted might be losing it. Eva does attempt to answer this question in her letters to Franklin, but her explanations are weak and I was left tearing my hair out at her excuses. Although in the interests of full disclosure, I have never carried, given birth too and raised a child Ė so perhaps I donít fully understand the reasons for how she could stay? The only one whose behaviour was clear was Kevin; he simply hated life and hated his family, it was the only feeling he ever expressed. The only thing we didnít know was why?

As the story leads up to the events of that Thursday, Eva becomes more and more aware of what her son might be capable of and more and more despondent at Franklinís inability to see this. Despite these feelings, her first thought on hearing of the incident, is concern for Kevinís safety. However when she learns he was in fact responsible, there is no surprise, only relief. Proof finally that it wasnít her that was making this up, that Kevin really was bad. Of course this then opens up the question of blame, leading everyone to wonder, including Eva, if it was her that made him this way in the first place. Which makes you wonder why she continues to go and visit him at the jail? Sentenced to only 9 years for his crime, he is about to be moved to an adult jail to serve out the remaining 7, following his 18th birthday. How was it he only got 9 years in the first place for meticulously planning and then systematically killing 11 people (the lengths he went too are truly remarkable). Because this wasnít just a few months of planning, this was years of Kevin setting the groundwork for what he was about to do. From the minute she broke his arm, when he had something over her, to his false relationship with his father, the bogus sexual assault claim, the request for Prozac, the purchase of the ďbike chainsĒ and his long-time love of archery Ė Kevin had been planning his moment of glory for years. It was no coincidence he committed this act just short of his 16th birthday when New York State would have tried and sentenced him as an adult.

There are several reasons for Evaís continued torture of visiting her son. Firstly, a final twist from Kevin leaves her no other option. A twist that I donít want to say any more about, but which I had expected and anticipated almost from the first page. Second, no matter what, there is a part of her that feels guilty. Guilty at the thought that she somehow created this monster Ė from her lack of bonding, her bad parenting or her being the only person to see the real Kevin yet doing nothing about it. Thirdly, itís Kevin himself. Never once answering the question of why he did it in the first place; to the police, the councillors or the courts, he finally starts to open up to Eva. Whether this is just another one of his games, itís hard to say Ė I suspect it probably is. A ploy to keep his mother close as he is about to enter the harsh world of the adult penitentiary, his honesty enables him to retain what he sees as his number one fan. And itís partly and perhaps most importantly, because now, Kevin is all Eva has left. Despite her ambivalence over having him in the first place and her obvious resentment at the changes he brought to her life, when faced with nothing but Kevin, she has no other choice but to love him. And this is perhaps the saddest part about the whole book.

This is a confronting and thought provoking novel which Lionel struggled to get published in the first place. Touching on a wide range of topics including ambivalence to motherhood, post-natal depression, nature versus nurture, love versus like, family, guilt and whether you can ever truly know someone, Lionel poses numerous questions, yet never really forces answers upon the reader, preferring instead to leave you pondering these for yourself. Not least of all is the question regarding what made Kevin the way he is in the first place. Ironically it has turned out to be the book that made Lionel famous and won her the Orange Prize for fiction in 2005. A word of mouth following has seen We Need To Talk About Kevin smash best-seller lists around the world. The movie version (ironically touched on in the book too) has now been released. Starring Tilda Swinton (Eva), John C Reilly (Franklin) and Ezra Miller (Kevin), it has already won numerous awards. Having recently seen the movie, I will say I thought it missed the mark with many central themes from the book striving too hard to be "arthouse". And although John C Reilly was woefully miscast as Franklin, Tilda and Ezra were fantastic.

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Double Fault (1997)

Willy Novinsky loves tennis - ever since she picked up a racket at four she has been determined to be the best, even though her family haven't been supportive of her passion. At 23 she is only ranked 392 in the world and has realised she is without friends or outside interests and has resorted to a disastrous love affair with her coach. Willy is underneath a good character; honest, intense, and fiercely intelligent. Willy meets Eric Oberdorf - a promising tennis player who is also ambitious and dedicated to his sport. Eric and Willy find themselves in love and marry. However this affects their professional careers; Willy plays badly yet Eric's game improves and he overtakes Willy in world rankings. The marriage starts to disintegrate through jealousy and a changing balance in their relationship.

This book provides a sad look behind the scenes of a marriage gone wrong due to selfishness.

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A Perfectly Good Family (1996)Book Cover of A Perfectly Good Family by Lionel Shriver

Corlis McCrea moves back from London into the family home after her parents death. It is a huge monolithic mansion in North Carolina, which was willed to all three siblings. Her younger fearful and decent brother still lives in the home (he never left) and soon her older iconoclastic older brother moves into into the home as well. They all want the house - so war ensues. Corlis is torn between which brother to form an allegiance (bit like a reality tv show).

This book opens the door on how inheritance can push the recipients over the edge. This book lacked the compelling nature of "Kevin", but she again captures the benevolence of characters and I did not like any of them. How can people be so repugnant and horrible, alas it is real life. You can see Shriver's writing style growing as she produces each book which bodes well for the future. The book is particially authobiographical and Shrivers acknowledges that her usual ring-fencing policy in relation to family and friends was slightly dented and she has since warned others against drawing too much from personal experience to the detriment of your family. She has since had extreme disagreements with her family about the book and her relationship with her parents has not fully recovered.

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Game Control (1994)Book Cover of Game Control by Lionel Shriver

Shriver writes books that are definately in the "difficult to discuss" or "unusual subject matter category" and this is another. I felt an affinity with part of this book. I am studying sustainable development and the constant quandary surrounding population control has me rethinking some of my own ethics. In Game Control, the central character is Eleanor Merritt, a typical do-good aid worker in Africa (Kenya to be specific) who tries to improve the lives of the poor, but in reality makes no dent in the underlying issues. She does however fall in love with Calvin Piper who has some very strong ideas on aid workers, population control and the future. Both Merritt and Piper start to suffer from compassion fatigue and in private wonder if the world would be a better place if poor people didn't require so much constant effort. I do struggle with the aid effort in Africa and how effective it really is, considering how long aid agencies have been working there.

This book at least provided a dark comedic look at how good intentions can be mistrued by others and the overarching intellectualism of Western ideals. This book had the usual dark witty undertones, but after reading Kevin and So Much for That, lacked their humour and wit.

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Ordinary Decent Criminals (1992)Book Cover of Ordinary Decent Criminals by Lionel Shriver

Well I am confused as I think this book is also The Bleeding Heart, just renamed. If anybody can provide any clarity, please contact us.

The Bleeding Heart (1990)

In each of the hot spots she favors around the world, Estrin Lancaster manages an apartment, a job, and a lover, leaving at the first sign of boredom. In a grim, violent Belfast circa 1988, she becomes involved with Farrell O'Phelan who also flees domesticity and is a cynical and pragmatic bomb specialist. They share a house on the line between Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods but although they have a romance it is unsatisfying as they share a horror of commitment. O'Phelan shares is views of the Irish Troubles and the novel involves Irish politics and the anguish of people who live through it.

Shriver's writing is outstandingly lucid and bright, with an original blend of American and Irish whimsical irony. Commanding both the sweep of Irish politics and the nuances of human relations, obviously based on the fact she lived in Ireland for 10 years.

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Checker and the Derailleurs (1987)

Beautiful and charismatic, nineteen-year-old Checker Secretti is the most gifted and original drummer that the club-goers of Astoria, Queens, have ever heard. When he plays, conundrums seem to solve themselves, brilliant thoughts spring to mind, and couples fall in love. The members of his band, The Derailleurs, are passionately devoted to their guiding spirit, as are all who fall under Checker's spell. But when another drummer, Eaton Striker, hears the prodigy play, he is pulled inexorably into Checker's orbit by a powerful combination of envy and admiration. Soon The Derailleurs, too, are torn apart by latent jealousies that Eaton does his utmost to bring alive.

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The Female of the Species (1986)

Still unattached and childless at fifty-nine, world-renowned anthropologist Gray Kaiser is seemingly invincibleóand untouchable. Returning to make a documentary at the site of her first great triumph in Kenya, she is accompanied by her faithful middle-aged assistant, Errol McEchern, who has loved her for years in silence. When sexy young graduate assistant Raphael Sarasol.

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