Top positive review
3 people found this helpful
Controversial, intellectual and well written
on 9 November 2014
Lionel Shriver is never afraid to cover controversial issues in her books - in this one, she tackles the thorny subject of human overpopulation. Her main character is an altruistic aid-worker who has spent the last twenty years handing out contraception in East Africa, who becomes involved with a maverick former colleague who has a rather more drastic solution in mind to tackle the rising population.
It's an 'intellectual' kind of book with plenty of complex debates between the characters. It's not 'hard to read' as such, but it's not an 'easy read' either - it requires a certain level of concentration and so is better to read in a quiet place. Not a good book for public transport or casual holiday reading. Shriver is an author who never uses a one-syllable word if an obscure multi-syllable one exists. But she is a good writer and she tells a good story, managing to make an exciting plot out of what could be a very dry subject.
The two main characters are fascinating and complex, in their very different ways. The maverick Calvin is particularly interesting and well written, Shriver manages to put across his charisma. You can understand how he has managed to gain followers despite the controversy of his views. Meanwhile the do-gooding Eleanor is a character many women in particular will recognise some similarities with. Her meek and mild exterior hides a tough edge and I liked the way she developed throughout the story.
I did find the subplot in which the ghost of Calvin's former girlfriend haunts him a bit odd and unnecessary. I wasn't sure if it we were supposed to take it literally, or to assume the main characters were imagining it. I'm not sure it really added anything to the story. There are some aspects of the rest of the story that are far-fetched, although as the whole thing has a satirical edge which allows more of suspension of disbelief.
If you enjoy original, challenging books with an intellectual edge, this will be a rewarding read. For anyone interested in the politics of aid, in population, philosophy, or Africa, there is plenty here to think about. Although it isn't an easy read as such, the quality of the plot, characters and originality make it a worthwhile investment of time and mental effort.