Lionel Shriver: we need to talk about healthcare, the healthy and the dying
American writer Lionel Shriver’s tenth novel, So Much For That, is a furious attack on the US healthcare system and an uncompromising reflection on the painful issues surrounding the prolonging of the lives of those suffering from deadly disease. It was published earlier this year in French, when Mediapart caught up with the author in Paris for this lively series of video interviews in English.
Shriver, 54, became established as best-selling author after the runaway success of her 2003 thriller We Need To Talk About Kevin, a study of a teenage mass murderer and the role in his crimes of the relationship with his mother, and which was adapted into a film by the same name released last year.
Shriver, who lives in London and is married to US jazz drummer Jeff Williams, is a regular contributor to the US and British press, and notably to The Guardian.
So Much For That, which was originally published in 2010, was inspired by the death of one of Shriver’s close friends, Terri, a metalsmith, who was suffering from mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that can be caused by asbestos contamination. One of the novel’s main characters, Glynis, is based on Terri, and Shriver, beyond her scathing attack on the healthcare system - mainly pre-Obama but with continued relevance - explores the taboo territory of the relationship between (for the moment) healthy people with those who are dying.
In a strikingly frank article published in The Guardian about Terri and Shriver’s reaction to her illness, the author wrote: “A biological instinct to steer clear of contagion can kick in even with diseases like cancer that we understand rationally aren't communicable. So the urge to avoid sick people runs very deep. Notice it. Then overcome it. There will always be something you'd rather do than confront the agony, anxiety and exile of serious illness, and these alternative endeavours seem terribly pressing in the moment: replacing the printer cartridge, catching up on urgent work-related email. But nothing is more pressing than someone you love who's suffering, and whose continuing existence you can no longer take for granted. So never vow to ring "tomorrow" – pick up the bloody phone.”
But Shriver can be funny, even hilarious, when talking about the grave issues presented in her book, as illustrated in the three interview clips here, conducted by Mediapart’s Christine Marcandier and Vincent Truffy. There's no reason to shy away – just click on the bloody screens!
So Much For That, by Lionel Shriver
Originally published in English by HarperCollins, March 2010, and published in French in January 2012 by Belfond under the title Tout ça pour quoi, priced 23 euros.
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