So Much For That by Lionel Shriver, 15 of 52

Well indeed, So Much for That, Ms Shriver!  I spent part of my birthday gift card to buy this book, had high expectations after hearing Shriver on the radio discussing the books topic. I have been feeling quite dismayed with the fact that I have a couple of books that I really haven’t been able to finish. This is absolutely not normal behaviour for me. I had seen Ms Shriver on TV (ABC – Q&A and First Tuesday Book Club) whilst in the early reading of the book and she failed to impress me with her fairly ascerbic demeanour; this is what came across strongly in the book.  I again had the collywobbles about a third of the way into the story, was thinking I am really struggling here, what do I do? I persisted, I trudged through, sped read through portions and finally finished the book. It was a long week and a half…but I got there this morning.

Ms Shriver weaves a tale of America’s ‘sick’ health system, adults doomed to miserable lives through no fault of their own, adults doomed to miserable lives through amazingly poor choices, families who have no idea of how to talk to each other, support each or love each other. It is a callous and brutal portrayal of love, illness, dreams and death.

So why didn’t I like it. I disliked nearly all the characters, they did seem to me to be such caricatures of what real people are – exaggerated to the point of absurdity. It was obvious what was going to happen to one of the pivotal characters and what a tragic figure he cut – but everyone seemed to be emotionally impotent, unable to deal with others. The daughter of a friend born with a degenerative disease was such a sad figure around which her parents pivoted and lost so much – there are people who seem to attract hardship manifestly disproportionate to their situation – these weren’t those type of people.  These were people unable to cope with what life had dished out to them and drowning in their misery and living on a knife edge.

The key ‘illness’ figure of the book Glynis dying of incurable cancer (mesothelioma) is deluded unethically by her medical specialist, bitter and poisonous to every one and eventually deserted by all apart from her husband who loves her. And there is no doubt that Shep loved her unconditionally, but he was portrayed as such a doormat of a man living a good life, upholding standards that no-one around him valued at all. He was a admirable nonetheless.

What I did like was the last few chapters of the book. Shriver has unemcumbered the main characters of the burdens of life in a couple of chapters. I wont spoil the plot, but enough to say that it seemed even Shriver had become sick of the miserable characters she had created and shed most of them for the finale. The end did seem at odd purpose to the beginning of the book, but I love escapism as much as anyone.

In the end I would say this grim tale has taught me nothing about dealing with sickness and death for those experiencing it, I felt it was more about the care-givers of those who are suffering and their emotions and forebearance. As someone who is dealing with the illness of a beloved family member I felt she lacked some perspective that could have added to the story. I am sure she researched it well, but some of the story just didn’t strike me as authentic. People will stay away from their loved ones with cancer and undergoing chemo if they are unwell, not through neglect, but through love – it IS a matter of life and death!

Readability 6 out of 10

Cant put down rating 5 out of 10 

Recommend to others 5 out of 10

Do I want to read another book by this author – Not so sure…I know she wrote We need to talk about Kevin, which many friends say it is a very good book, confronting. But I think that is just her style.


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