Sunday 24 May 2020

Short post on a very warm evening...

It’s 6:30pm, I’ve just settled down with a stir-fried bowl of local leeks, spinach and tomato, and thought I should write this post just to get it out of the way.
I’m devoting this period of self-isolation to reading books from my own shelves, not rereading favourites or reading the books I brought home from my school library, which I’ll get to in the summer, in an effort to weed my own collections.  I decided to read one of the two unread Lionel Shriver books I have, and really give it a chance, since I so enjoyed Big Brother and I found We Need To Talk About Kevin so well-written and thought-provoking.  I chose So Much For That and finally finished it this afternoon.  Set in New York, this novel is told mainly from the point of view of Shepherd Knacker, a fifty-year-old man who has finally decided to move ahead with his plan for the Afterlife, an African island where it costs dollars a day to live, with or without his wife Glynis and son Zach.  This has been Shep’s and Glynis’ dream for years, with much time and money spent on “research trips” (NOT vacations).  But Glynis always had reasons to rule out certain places, and finally Shep’s had enough.  When he gives her the ultimatum, she retorts with news that she has a terminal illness, and Shep realizes that he must reconsider his plans for the foreseeable future.  Interspersed with Shep’s chapters are those told by his best friend Jackson, who has a daughter with familial dysautonomia, also a degenerative, fatal condition.  Jackson loves to rant about anything, the government, the police, the system, anything.  How these men cope with their lives and families over the course of a year is delved into and explained in great detail, and by the time I reached the 433rd page, I was exhausted.  I have to say, I was so uninterested in this story that I nearly stopped at many different points, but I kept at it, and almost stopped again yesterday, a mere 29 pages from the end, after I got to what I guessed to be the most significant part of the book, the solution to the “mystery” of how this will all work out, but then I came across this passage, where Shep is talking to Glynis:  “ ‘You know, these movies… Remember how sometimes, in the middle, a movie seems to drag?  I get restless, and take a leak, or go for popcorn.  But sometimes, the last part, it heats up, and then right before the credits one of us starts to cry - well, then you forget about the crummy middle, don’t you?... Because it moved you, because it finally pulled together, you think, when you walk out, that it was a good movie, and you’re glad you went.  See, Gnu?’ he promised.  ‘We can still end well.’”  And I thought, OK, this book was a real slog for me, and I put it down so many times, toying with the idea that I just wouldn’t pick it up again, but at this section, I really was feeling a bit emotional towards these characters, so I thought that maybe it would end well.  Alas, I struggled to get motivated to read those last 29 pages, and was so very happy to close the book forever.  It was a fairy-tale, but one that pretended not to be one.  I can see where the idea for Big Brother came from, as I saw shades of that excellent book in this one.  And the single chapter told from Glynis’ point of view was brilliant, reminding me of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in both use of language and voice (it's a shame there wasn't more of that).  But the rest… I could have totally done without it.  At least now I can say "so much for that", and can safely give away the other unread Shriver with no misgivings to free up more space on my shelves.
That’s all for tonight.  I hope you have a wonderful week. Stay cool, stay safe and keep reading!!
Bye for now…

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