DATE READ: April 2011
NOTES: Shep Knacker has a dream of leaving New York and setting up home in some distant place. He plans to lead a simple life with the help of his substantial nest-egg acquired from the sale of his business. However his dream is his alone and not shared by his wife and children. His research tells him that an ideal place to spend his “Afterlife” would be an island paradise off the Tanzanian coast. But his determination to set off on this adventure is shattered by the news of his wife’s cancer.
From this point disastrous events occur. All Shep’s former financial decisions have been wrong and he is now caught up in battles with a third-rate health insurance company that will only pay a portion of the astronomonical fees. His wife Glynis is put on a range of experimental (and expensive) drugs and month by month Shep sees his nest-egg diminishing. He seems to love Glynis rather than like her and an inner resentment builds up. Shep is a decent character but is generally considered a “soft touch” by his whole family. As well as supporting an ailing wife he has a son at an expensive school, a daughter being subsidised through university, a sister who is too creative to actually earn money and a father who despises the monetary system but expects to be assisted by his son.
His long term friend Jackson has a disabled daughter suffering from a horrific genetic syndrome. Jackson is often filled with rage and has frequent rants about how the government is ripping everyone off. He is convinced that people who works hard and pay their taxes are made fools of by both the federal government and by idle scroungers.
Sounds awful, doesn’t it? But actually this is a really compelling read. I was enthralled, horrified and angry in turn. Sometimes I wanted to scream: “Shep – get a grip!” By halfway through this book I expected the ending to be really depressing. But amazingly it is not. Lionel Shriver actually gives us a redemptive and (dare I say) uplifting conclusion.
(This book should be compulsory reading for anyone who thinks more privatisation in our Health Service would be a good thing!)