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29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
The Female of the Species by Lionel Shriver

Having been so affected by We Need To Talk About Kevin (Serpent's Tail Classics)which still remains the best discussion our book club has had so far, after ten years of reading together; I decided to go deeper with Lionel Shriver and have a go at her other works. I read The Post-Birthday World' with moderate enjoyment and a feeling of exquisite sadness at what might have been, A Perfectly Good Familywith even more pleasure and now I have found this, her debut novel.

This new floppy paperback is attractively soft and comfortable to hold, being a `P.S.' edition it has helpful extras; a `A Meet Lionel Shriver' essay, `Have you read?' suggestions, and best of all the `About The Book' piece by LS. In this LS chats about her own feelings on revisiting `The Female of the Species' for the first time since its publication in 1986. I found that fascinating; it helped me to understand `The Female of The Species' much better, also it gave me the grit to get through what is a very odd and long beginning. LS calls it a "beginning riff - full of jokes to keep myself entertained, and carrying on in such detail because I was the boss and could do whatever I felt like."

The story of the acclaimed female anthropologist Gray Kaiser begins in her past, when she goes to study an obscure tribe, being run by a man they perceive to be their god - Charles Corgie. (Lionel Shriver does come up with some odd names). The effects of what happened to Gray in the mountains of Kenya, an exciting and memorable experience, boldly cinematic in scope; linger with her for the rest of her life. We meet her again at 59, when she is still a virgin, revisiting the Il-Oroen tribe and about to fall for her beautiful, mysterious, grad student Raphael. The tale is then masterfully taken over, thankfully, at this point by her long term best friend Errol McEchern who, previously in the background, arises and single handedly lifts the book into something truly readable by the use of his fertile imagination. Errol, in story telling mode, fleshes out the previous life of the enigmatic and charming Raphael to such an extent that the book lifts off into the stratosphere of the best of all possible writing.

This book, as we now know, announces the arrival of a hugely admired and competent storyteller and is surely worthy of anyone's time and effort. The subject matter, social anthropology, allows LS to confidently explore some robust and contemporary themes most impressively. Her own wholehearted enjoyment in pinning down what explodes from her glittering imagination clearly signposts the promise of further fireworks as yet unlit.
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on 31 July 2013
Ever since I first read "We need to talk about Kevin" I knew I had to read all of Shriver's books, and were better to start than with the beginning of her literary career. And boy, what a debut. All the necessary elements are there: great characters, a plot with a quirky structure, and a style that is not only challenging and intelligent, but also poetic and wistful.

The story is divided into three levels so to speak: one anthropologist's wild adventure in Africa, one account of a troubled boy's past, and the subsequent union of the two. Gray, the fierce and slightly feared aging beauty; and Ralph, the ravishing, manipulating, young Zeus. A complicated yet passionate relationship of two sides of the same coin.

Narrated by Errol, Gray's best friend, there is definitely a "Gatsbyanesque" feel to it. A simple friend stands on the side lines and tells us about an exotic, strange, persona who is in love with someone they really shouldn't be. Except in this case, Errol despises Ralph utterly.

All the characters are real, alive, complicated. So different from each over, so the same. Exactly like real life.
The prose, the sentences are incredibly structured and involved, they become beautiful in there complexity.

And finally, an added bonus to the package, a peep into the world of anthropology. Told by way of a study of human conduct, of our behavior, our actions when faced with complicated matters, by means of this book, which if you cannot tell by know, I loved.
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on 23 June 2015
A bit heavy going at times, too descriptive the reader can lose track. Hard to believe that a 25 year old fabulous looking man would have any interest in a 59 year old spinster...and virgin at that. Would have been more credible if she was 49 or 50. And does Lionel Shriver really expect us to believe a 59 yr old woman could beat a very fit sporty 25 yr old man in his prime at tennis and also challenge him to an arm wrestle beforehand ?
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 20 March 2013
I really enjoyed this Lionel Shriver book. It's completely different from "Kevin" and equally as readable. I'm looking forward to reading more by her- she's a very unique author with a very interesting view of life which always sparks discussion amongst my friends.
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on 26 August 2015
I understand this is one of Shriver's early books. Glad I didn't read it first - I would probably not have become the Shriver fan I am. Tries too hard to be 'intelligent' in my opinion.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 22 May 2013
Good story and pleasant read but not thought provoking like some of LS other work. The breakdown of the lead character isn't as in-depth as the description of the book allows one to believe.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 9 December 2011
Brilliantly written if unusual book by this great author. I have to re-read paragraphs just to take in her wonderful writing.
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on 3 August 2014
as always a brilliant read
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 20 May 2014
I very rarely write reviews but this book is something else and I felt it deserves feedback.
I absolutely loved it ; every single page of it
Why ? It is Lionel at her best ; again no pink glasses ; it is us humans stripped of all provados , but despite of it or maybe because of it what is left is quite beautiful
Warning : Do not read if you want to keep romantic views on the world ; it is not Love and Prejudice
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 30 May 2012
I love Lionel Shriver and have read most of her books - brilliant writing and insight and 'unputdownable'.
Not so I found with this book though - my least favourite of her novels.
Found it rather rambling - I would recommend you read some of her other novels first - however, I could still see this being made into a film.
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