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on 16 September 2017
I've never found a Lionel Shriver book I didn't enjoy. This one is slow-paced, which it suits, and cleverly introspective.

Although the characters were only partially based on the author's own family, placed in a fictional setting, I thought it was very brave.

I found the 'about the book/return to Raleigh' addendum very touching.
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on 29 August 2017
Very thoughtful story. No sugar coating.
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Reading "A Perfectly Good Family" by Lionel Shriver with a ghastly fascination I felt as if I were watching something so private, so complicated and so human that I was embarrassed to be a voyeur into the McCrea family lives.

Getting to know each of the three adult children who have to sort out their responses to an unexpectedly challenging situation following their parents' deaths was creepily interesting and ultimately rewarding. When you get a handle on the character of the narrator Corlis you realise that anything could happen.

Lionel Shriver gives us glimpses of Corlis when she lived in London where her ménage a trois foreshadows the Janus like way in which she behaves towards her older and younger brothers.

With these two very different men; Trueman and Mordecai, together with the `Fourth Child" which is their parent's named charity bequest; the Heck-Andrews house, that has intriguingly also a beguiling character of it's own; needs fresh ownership arrangements.

Sorting through their parents effects sparks off varied reminiscences to the point the reader gets to know all too well what kind of family the McCreas were in their prime. I loved the scene when the freezer is cleared out. It rang so very true. Unravelling the allegiances, fantasies and personal visions of the way things were is hauntingly sad and therapeutic.

I enjoyed this book immensely for the family story it contains but feel that were I from the USA I would get even more from it as the references are densely everyday cultural ones for Americans, more alien to a UK readership.

It is interesting that some of our authors are not well received in the USA and are not offered publication but we perhaps more tolerantly read so much that is not familiar, in the way of food references, fashion, politics and manners. Even if we have never been to the USA we feel as though we know it, sometimes it feels as if we are reading in a foreign language, although over the years of reading their books we have absorbed so much of their way of doing things.
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on 14 April 2011
As a massive fan of 'Kevin' I was really disappointed by this self indulgent novel. It tried too hard, the characters didn't feel authentic. This was my choice for our book club and I felt I had to apologise for it. Not one member really enjoyed it. However I have to say that it inspired the most debate of any of our choices to date, not so much about the novel, but about the issues of inheritance that it it raises.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 November 2010
Having been enthralled by We Need To Talk About Kevin (Serpent's Tail Classics) and So Much for That I was perhaps expecting too much from this book. As is her hall-mark Lionel Shriver again deals with difficult issues, in this case, of the squabbles that can split a family over inheritance and the interpersonal difficulties among siblings. The title, I think, was meant to be ironic and it certainly turned out to be that way with the resentments against their dead parents being aired and the two brothers and their sister chaffing against one another as the story unfolds as to what will happen to the rambling property left to the three of them plus, to their surprise, also to a Civil Rights Charity supported by their father. There are some good black-humour scenes, such as the painfully awful Christmas, but I feel that the book is too long for what it has to say. About half-way through I started skipping pages and even chapters and I don't think I lost much of the story as there's not much story but a lot of descriptive stuff about family dynamics.
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on 14 November 2009
Families are funny things. WE can moan about them all we like to our mates, but stand up for them with grit if anyone else pipes up. So I can't fathom why someone would want to publicly explore a family which is very close to their real-life set -up.I couldn't deal with the indignation, or the letters or the silence which the author recieved when her family read this.

Although totally engaging, the characters in this are flawed and unsympathetic, which is how real people are innit? Corlis infuriated me, with her lack of decisiveness, as did Trueman - a grown up who was whinier than a teething baby. Eldest brother Mordecai was spot on for the time - all long plaits, meat and grunge - and reminded me of many men I've met who desperately try to be provocative in order to hide the softness underneath.

The idea that adults feel like they are entitled to their parents belongings no matter what fascinates me. If someone leaves you something fair enough, but to ffeel liek you;re owed just because you exist is madness. So the central story grabbed me from the outset, although I really wanted at least one the chracaters to realise they were not entitled.

I loved the way she spun this - from an interesting premise, past arguments and grudges right up to the unexpected ending - and whilst this may not be the most flattering portrait of families , it was honest and unflinching, funny and embarrassing, just the like the best families.
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on 31 August 2010
I have read most of Lionel Shriver's books and enjoyed them. This was a very disappointing read. It was slowly paced with not much to it. If you had to read the first and last chapter you would know exactly what had happened in the whole book.
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on 10 January 2009
Having thoroughly enjoyed other books by Lionel Shriver, notably the excellent '...Kevin', I bought this with enthusiasm and was quite disappointed. Although it is well written and has memorable characters and a few memorable lines which have stayed with me, I felt it was a bit slow overall and nothing I cared about really happened.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 July 2016
This novel is an intimate portrait of family life and the relationships between siblings. Three adult children come together in their family home, which they now own equal stakes in following the deaths of their parents. None can afford to buy the others out, and none of them wants to back down. Inevitably, all the family history and childhood resentments rear their heads again.

It's an intense, quite lengthy novel, written with Shriver's usual style - i.e. good, but overdone. She is a great observer of human nature and relationships and as always shows a lot of insight into family dynamics. Uncomfortable truths and emotions are tackled fearlessly and constantly, making you question your own thoughts, feelings and motives. It can be an uneasy read at times for that reason, but it's unquestionably a good one. My usual complaint with Shriver's work is that she overwrites and repeatedly states the same things - and there's definitely some of that here. A good 50-100 pages could probably be cut without detriment. At the same time though, the ending felt very rushed and implausible.

It's very much a character driven novel; there's not a great deal of plot here, although that's not to say it's dull. The drama is all generated from the people and their interactions, rather than any exciting external events or mysteries to solve. Readers who like stories which examine relationships and psychology will be in their element - fans of thrillers and plot driven books may prefer to give it a miss. As a reader with brothers myself, maybe it resonated more with me than it might with someone who is an only child. However, my relationship with my brothers is happily very good, so much of what is described here is as alien to me as to a someone without siblings.

Overall, if you enjoy books about people, you will almost certainly find this a treat. It's not as good as 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' (but then few books ever are), but I prefer it to 'The Post Birthday World'. Thematically it is most similar to 'Big Brother' and readers who enjoyed that book should try this one, and vice versa.
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on 16 February 2014
When I suggested A Perfectly Good Family to my reading circle, it was because I had admired the writing of Lionel Shriver in We Need to Talk about Kevin. Looking through her titles, I thought inheritance would be a safer option than that notorious book, and, because despite being riveted by We need to talk …’, I doubt if I could read it a second time.

The book tells the story of two brothers - macho slob, Mordecai and wimpish perfectionist, Truman - and a sister, Corlis, or Corrie Lou, who together with a worthy charity, inherit their parents’ home. Each of the brothers wants to own the house and buy out the other one, but they can only do this with the help of their sister.

A Perfectly Good Family was written before We need to talk …,’ and, at first sight, the prose did not seem to me so sparkling; in fact occasionally the sentences seemed a bit rambling and incomprehensible. Also, there were too many Americanisms for me. These were observations I made at about the half way point, but my main problem was not the above, but the fact that the story had not moved very far at that stage, even though we had learned quite a lot about the main protagonists.

In an article, Lionel Shriver describes the similarities to her own family, for example, the action takes place in North Carolina, where she was raised, and like the protagonists, she is the only girl sandwiched between two brothers. Her parents, though alive, have similarities to the fictional dead parents in their liberal politics and other attributes.

So although this is a piece of fiction, the relationships are based on truth and as result of that, I think there is a problem with having a great deal of information on the subject matter. Like any sort of research or pot of knowledge, it’s tempting to include too much of it. So I am wondering if Lionel Shriver got carried away, when describing her own family and was so busy setting the scene that she forgot about the plot.

There were characteristics which were horribly familiar to me - the obsessive recycling of sheets of aluminium foil, for example, which I’m sure were drawn from life - and they were amusing, but perhaps, a bit too much of them.

At first sight, the brothers, although very different, are both unappealing in different ways, and the narrator has also some unpleasant ways. Only when the brothers are reconciled and Corri Lou is honest with them, did I get to like them all more.

This is a story of family dynamics and not only describes sibling rivalry, but also a kind of emotional incestuousness, with both brothers vying for attention and affection from their sister, while she both welcomes and is put into a state of divided loyalty by that affection.

The story takes off once the siblings start battling over their inherited house, and the real action begins about half way through with the Christmas dinner from hell. The various events that follow keep the interest from flagging.

I found the book interesting, but I think my next Shriver will probably be post Kevin. I would probably give it 3.5 stars.
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