This novel is about Shep, who dreams of getting away from it all, of cutting his losses from a life of work and wealth acquisition to spend what he calls “the afterlife” in a suitably exotic location. He has spent many years trying to convince his wife, Glynis, to have the same dream, but without success so far. Very early on in the book, Shep decides that it’s finally time to live his dream, he’s going to Pemba, with or without Glynis. At this point, she announces that she has been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and the central theme of the book becomes apparent: the cost of medical care. The novel is set in the USA, the protagonists are wealthy people.
(Spoilers coming thick and fast now:)
Clinical procedures and treatments are followed to buy Glynis time and rapidly deplete the family’s resources. To make matters worse, Shep loses his job, and therefore medical insurance for his family, and there are still many other calls on his purse: looking after Gabe, his aging father, supporting an impossibly bitchy sister, providing for his and Glynis’s two children.
The other characters in the novel are Shep’s friends: nice Carol married to angry Jackson, with their two daughters, Heather and Flicka, the latter a very smart cookie and heavily disabled. There is also a suitably evil boss. The hero Shep is an improbably all-round nice guy, taking care of everybody beyond the call of duty, saintly in his ministrations to his sick wife and a handy man (every woman’s dream, surely, forget the six-pack) with a penchant for artistic tinkering (he creates wacky fountains).
And this is a note to the person who lent me this book: when I said I wanted to retire to Zanzibar (Pemba is an island in the Zanzibar archipelago), I wasn’t thinking particularly of dying there! Anyway, when Glynis is close to death, Shep decides to move her to Pemba, together with his father, his son (the daughter who is no longer in education stays in the US), Carol and her two daughters (mad at the world Jackson having in the meantime shot himself). They get there. All the sick and aged die in rapid succession: Glynis, Gabe and Flicka and the survivors stay on Pemba, blissfully happy.
I enjoyed parts of this book: Jackson’s rants are fun to read and references to bao and cloves brought happy memories back. A review said that “British readers will close this excellent novel feeling grateful for the NHS”. Indeed, but France is ranked first for “overall health system performance” in 191 countries in the WHO’s latest report (2000) on the topic. OK, it does mean our social contributions are a leeetle bit on the high side....Continua
The best book I've read in ages. The characters are so real you feel you will meet them when you walk out of the front door. It has everything - humour, tragedy, realism and fantasy. If you are American, I feel so sorry for you if you get ill; if you are British you will think "thank God for the NHS"....Continua
It was alright. Maybe would have meant more to an American reader rather than British. A lot of illness, but some fine dark humour
Lionel Shriver has a way with words - her works are dense and intense and you live the situation with the protagonist. I adored We need to talk about Kevin and the Post Birthday World (even though partially about the world of snooker). Here we are in the world of: everything goes wrong and life stinks... Shepard, who always had one goal: leave the rat race as we know it and go live elsewhere - after years of saving, planning and visitng africa, asia and belgium(?) (france was excluded as too socialist(,)), etc he is ready to go, with or without his wife and son. And then murphy's law - he announces his imminent departure to his wife, who listens and then informs him she has cancer. And then it is bleek bleek bleek. Everything goes from bad to worse. Relentlessly......Continua