'So Much For That' by Lionel Shriver
I was passed this book, along with a pile of others, by a friend and was looking forward to reading it as my daughter had kept insisting on me reading 'We need to talk about Kevin' but she also loaned it to a friend so I have not yet read that one .Luckily though I have managed to find that in our little village telephone box library so I might finally get to read about 'Kevin' I still have not seen the film either but will get around to it one day.
A BIT ABOUT THE AUTHOR
In my ignorance I thought she was a he but Lionel is a woman and she chose the name herself as she didn't like the one her parents chose, Margaret Anne . Personally I would have stuck with that and done something with the Margaret rather than Lionel ! Judging by the names she chose in this book for her characters she does have odd taste - Corlis (female) Mordecai and Truman are not your average family names are they?
Ms Shriver has traveled extensively living in various countries around the world from Kenya to Israel, and including the UK where she lives now and of course she was originally brought up in the USA.
The author is proud of her use of English and pronunciation. She will correct anyone who pronounces 'faccid' as 'flassid' as she points out in the dictionary it shows it should be pronounced 'flak-sid'. She is also particular about the use of the word 'enervated which does not mean energised as many use it but rather the opposite - without energy.
THE PLOT OR STORY
A husband ( Shep Knacker) has been saving for many years to escape the rat race and go with his family to live somewhere simpler and for many years the family have been holidaying in such places trying to decide which would be the best choice . It seems there is always some little thing that makes it not the perfect place and so despite having sold his company which he built up from nothing, for a good million or so dollars, the family are still living in the USA.
The story begins with Shep packing ready to give his ultimatum to his wife, "Here are the tickets ,I am going.Are you coming too?" This is where Glynis drops her bombshell that she is going to need his health insurance and I am going to have to give a spoiler as the rest of the review needs this piece of information. Glynis has terminal cancer and so Shep being a loyal husband stays and continues to work at his job under the new owner as an employee and look after Glynis. Shep obviously loves Glynis who is not an easy patient and meanwhile his family, sister and father also need his help financially or otherwise and he is pulled in all directions.
The parallel story is based on Shep's friend and work mate, Jackson and his family; the two families lives sort of entwine and each have major medical issues to deal with. Jackson's daughter has a specifically Jewish genetic disease called Dysauronomia which sounds awful and is extremely restrictive and limits the life span and so much more of the person afflicted.
Both families have limited medical insurance and so the bills take their toll which is something those living in the UK are never really fully aware of. We are not given a bill for every treatment and in realty often have no idea of the financial cost of our illnesses. For example a family I know have a child with a genetic liver condition and one of her many medications costs £1000 a month and that will be for the rest of her life!
The story tells of how two families cope with all the pressure of having a terminal and very expensive illness to cope with.
This story is set in New York and centres on two families who both have major health issues to deal with
One has sold the house in preparation for the escape t a simpler life while the other is deeply mortgaged and getting deeper and deeper in debt.
The chapter headings show Shep's original escape fund gradually becoming less and less as Glynis' treatments take place.
Shep seemed the most likeable initially but I found him too good to be true after a while and so that became irritating.
Jackson was the most realistic and I did sympathise with his feeling of helplessness but his bitterness and politics began to get on my nerves.
I did like the daughter, Flicka with the genetic illness who had a caustic sense of humour. Carol, the mother of Flicka was reliable and the one who kept the family together, tried to maintain friendship with the very aggressive Glynis and cope with the depressing husband, Jackson but was in reality rather a non character to me.
Glynis was aggressive and while I sympathised with her situation her attitude to everyone was pretty darned unpleasant and how Shep maintained his patience with her all that time I have no idea.
It was in fact difficult to like any of the characters very much, some were far too unpleasant while Shep was unbelievably too perfect.
Having lost my mother to a pretty horrific and painful cancer I found this hard to read at times but it did make me aware of two major things.
Firstly the cost of cancer treatments and how much in pounds and pence each session of the awful chemo therapy actually costs the NHS and the tax payer. It is an awful treatment and one that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy having seen my mother lose all her hair, being constantly sick which in turn gave her agonizing pain in her back which is where her myeloma started.
Nothing can really prepare you for the horrors of seeing someone close to you suffer the agony of dying of cancer and the indignities that go along with a terminal illness when your brain is still working as normal.
The second thing that I felt the novel brought to light is the fact that many cancer treatments are often not a cure and merely delay the process and in many cases the treatment only gives extra months and not extra life. The quote that echoes in my head is when Shep makes the oncologist tell him the cost financially of the treatment which comes to well over a million dollars and the he asks what has it added to his wife's life. The answer is "Oh I think she has had a few good months more,". Shep's response is 'No, they were not good months.'
Is the treatment often worse than simply allowing the disease to follow its natural course and who is brave enough to make that decision? A lady in our village was diagnosed with a terminal cancer before Christmas and chose to say no to treatment and died last week. I don't know how much longer she would have had with treatment.
An ex colleague of mine has been diagnosed with a terminal just after Christmas and seemed as well as I was at the time so a huge shock to her family and friends. She is undergoing chemo therapy but I haven't asked details as she has not given them. It does mean that she cannot see family and friends who might have any dreaded 'germs' and cannot go out much so it does make you wonder what value life is if you cannot do so much and see the friends who care.
Throughout the book I was thinking how would I cope if that were me in the situation Glynis was in? How would I cope if my husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness? What decisions would we make about the limited future? Would you want to talk about 'after I have gone'?
With my mother we did talk about our childhood and our life as her children. We talked about what she wanted for her funeral and what she wanted us to have in her memory. She told us how she wanted her jewellery to be shared between the four of us. She was so brave and I am so grateful to her for being so honest and up front about how she felt throughout her illness and what she wanted to happen after she died.
Although she was so ill we still had some laughs and spent a lot of time with her and she enjoyed having her grandchildren around her. My younger sister and I saw Mum every day throughout her illness unless we were not well and it was a time we really valued. I felt the character of Glynis was so bitter that she missed out on time with her husband and family because of her aggressive and resentful attitude which was really sad.
At times I did smile when I was reading this as there was an element of humour. It was rather black humour but still lightened the atmosphere of the rather depressing story.
The end I found was a bit too 'nice and tidy' but I suppose it was inevitable because you cannot really expect a novel to be too true to reality.
Unlike the previous Shriver novel which at times I could have put down and not bothered finishing if I was the sort of person who gives up on books, I never felt like that with this book. It went along at a reasonable pace throughout with some surprises and shocks along the way.
I found it interesting to read that the author had a friend who died of the same cancer and that she went through the same pangs of guilt about not seeing her enough as some characters in her book. It made me determined that I will try to see my ex colleague as often as I can while she is going through her cancer treatment as it would be so easy to make excuses and not make the effort.
WHAT SOME REVIEWERS HAVE SAID
"Wide-ranging, sometimes zany and unpredictable, this is a compelling read. And however many twists Shriver shoves in, you always believe her." - The Times
"Many people will like Lionel Shriver's ninth novel - admirers of gripping and clever contemporary fiction, discerning critics and, if there is any justice, literary prize committees." - Guardian
"Shriver proves she is not afraid of anything..." - Observer
"It's a wonder that subject matter on the surface so bleak can be transformed into something so uplifting." - Daily Telegraph
"Yes, a brilliantly funny cancer book! You can rely on Lionel Shriver to upend your expectations." - Daily Express
"...witty, observant and beautifully controlled. British readers will close this excellent novel feeling grateful for the NHS. " -Literary Review
"...a visceral and deeply affecting story, a story about how illness affects people's relationships, and how their efforts to grapple with mortality reshape the arcs of their lives." - Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
I preferred this to the previous book I read by this author 'A perfectly good Family' as I felt there was a bit more story and more interesting characters. I will read 'We Have to talk about Kevin', as this book was certainly more interesting and made me think about how I might feel if I was given the diagnosis I am not sure I would recommend it as a 'must read' book. It was interesting and for me, a little upsetting as it did bring back some rather unhappy memories about my mother suffering through her cancer. It wasn't a comfortable read so avoid if you are suffering with cancer or have a relative suffering as it is not an uplifting read but it did make me grateful for the NHS which so many criticize over here.
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