Jessica Gregson’s blog

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Reading ‘The New Republic’ in various places

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The book: The New Republic, Lionel Shriver

The place: all over the shop

I have a complicated relationship with Lionel Shriver’s books. I thought We Need To Talk About Kevin was absolutely brilliant, not to mention brave and important; it’s a book I reread fairly often. Shriver’s other books … not so much. I am still drawn to reading them, because Shriver is a very engaging writer with a sharp eye (sometimes too sharp) for human behaviour; it’s a rare book of hers where I’m not highlighting some quote or other that’s made me see something in quite a different light.


All her characters are arseholes. I do not say this lightly: I cannot think of a single Lionel Shriver character with whom I would like to share a beer, even in order to have a scurrilous gossip about some of her other characters. Shriver seems to have an unremittingly bleak view of human nature, which I find depressing (and unrealistic) – and at various points in various books I have a realization along the lines of: all right, I no longer care how theoretically interesting these people are, or how many clever quips they come out with; they are utterly vile individuals, and I do not know why I am choosing to spend time with them.

And then there’s the fact that her books are polemics. I’ve got nothing against a good polemic, particularly if it’s on a topic I agree with (So Much for That is a wonderfully bitter indictment of US health care) – but when a book becomes an Issues Book, when it starts to feel as if the author is manipulating the characters just to make a point, rather than letting them live their (admittedly imaginary) lives, that’s when it becomes tiresome.

And finally, gender. Oh lord, Lionel Shriver’s views of gender. She writes women that I find utterly unrecognizable, because they are usually smitten with men whom I find wholly lacking in appeal. This was something that worked in We Need To Talk About Kevin because it made sense in the context of the story, but the heterosexual relationships depicted in the vast majority of her books give me the impression that she conceptualises relationships between men and women in a way that goes beyond the bizarre and regressive and into the downright depressing. In the acknowledgements of The New Republic she thanks a couple of people, presumably editors or agents, for their “appreciation for a boy-book written by a girl”, which just makes me want to throw things. Listen, I get the seductive appeal of feeling like a lone woman admitted to a boys’ club, the desire to point at the gender stereotype and distance your own individual self from it, rather than working to dismantle the stereotype itself. But the easy way out is neither admirable nor laudable.


I took to Lagos, by the way.


The beach at Ibeju-Lekki


Rather a lot of Lagos looks like this: overpasses crossing bits of lagoon


Also, gigantic ads for Moet


Traffic that puts Nairobi to shame


Bring Back Our Girls


Masquerades outside the hippodrome


Written by Jess

September 9, 2014 at 7:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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