The Motion of the Body Through Space by Lionel Shriver

“Okay, boomer…”

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Serenata has always been a fitness freak, no day complete without its allocated hours of exercises and running. So much so that, now she has reached sixty, her knees have given up the unequal struggle and forced her to learn to take things easy. Still trying to come to terms with this, she finds it rather cruel and insensitive when her husband Remington decides that, after a lifetime of sedentary laziness, he will run a marathon. Besides, she hates the new culture of fitness sweeping the country – when she started her punishing regime all those years ago, she was unusual, and that was a large part of the charm. Now when she’s out cycling it seems half the world is there alongside her, and for her running was always something you did on your own to get fit, not in crowds for pleasure. Plus, is there just a little jealousy in there? Serenata has never run a marathon… not that she wanted to, of course, but still. She is honest enough to admit to herself that she thoroughly resents Remington’s new-found enthusiasm…

This is my first Shriver so I don’t know how it compares to her other books. This one is written with a great deal of humour from the perspective of a grumpy older woman struggling to take modern attitudes seriously and derisive of the hubristic belief of the young that they have somehow invented anti-racism and feminism and know all the answers. Anyone who reads my tweets or reviews may not be too surprised to learn that this resonated strongly with me! Shriver mercilessly mocks the worst of political correctness and the ridiculous extremes of identity politics which have made us wary even of referring to ourselves as men or women for fear that that will offend someone somewhere somehow, or of inadvertently using a term that was considered not just acceptable but progressive five years ago but is now apparently an indication of some hideously unforgivable Neanderthal attitude. Poor Serenata gets very tired of people assuming that because she’s white, middle-class, middle-aged and straight, that that automatically must mean she’s racist, homophobic and downright stupid. Oh, Serenata, I feel your pain!

Remington, meantime, is going through a mid-life crisis, complete with an infatuation with another woman, his fitness coach. Serenata realises that her open mockery of his marathon ambition is driving a wedge into their long and happy marriage, so tries her best to show him support. Shriver is very funny about the whole fitness industry, where one marathon is no longer enough – people have to run at least four, consecutively, in a desert, if they want respect these days. To her horror, Remington is not satisfied by his marathon. Instead he now decides he wants to do the Mettleman Triathlon – a gruelling all-day race involving cycling, swimming and running. Serenata feels this may literally kill him, but her earlier ridicule means Remington puts her warnings down to mere petulance. Will he survive? Even if he does, will their marriage survive? Does Serenata even want it to?

Lionel Shriver

I don’t know how young people will react to this – it may be making too much fun of subjects they erroneously think they own. But as someone roughly the same age as Serenata, I found it sharp and perceptive, and hilarious. I’m sure when I was young I was just as convinced my elders were all idiots, but now that I’m old I can see that the young have their fair share of idiocy too, and I look forward gleefully to the day when the youth of today are old (as they will be, sooner than they think) and are being told by their grandchildren’s generation that they failed in everything and know nothing about anything. Serenata is an unlikely heroine, but I’m sure she speaks for many of us who have spent a lifetime fighting all the ’isms only to find ourselves derided, dismissed, patronised or ignored by those who benefit every day from our achievements – even for many who would never admit it for fear of not seeming groovy/cool/woke/insert-latest-self-congratulatory-buzzword-here.

So, highly recommended for grumpy older women everywhere, and please feel free to call me Serenata from now on… *smiles sweetly*

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, HarperCollins, via NetGalley.

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45 thoughts on “The Motion of the Body Through Space by Lionel Shriver

  1. I’ve read most of Shriver’s works and enjoy her ‘bite’. Every generation think they know everything, in their turn. I’m already looking forward to this and as a former runner whose knees are worn out, think I’ll connect with the main character.

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  2. I haven’t read Shriver before either but I think this would resonate with me too (fitting into the grumpy old woman category comfortably) Great review, Serenata 😉 😂

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    • Oh, no one is as old as Serenata and me – that’s why we hit it off so well! 😉 I suspect Shriver must be a runner – the way she wrote about it sounded like the voice of experience. If you get to read it sometime, I hope you have as much fun with it as I did! 😀

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    • I don’t know why I haven’t read any of her stuff before, because I’ve always enjoyed her as a “talking head” on TV. Now that she’s won me over I’ll be back-tracking through some of her earlier stuff, so I’ll keep an eye out for Ordinary Decent Criminals.

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  3. I could do with something like this which doesn’t take itself too seriously, I sometimes feel our society is sacrefising the ability to laugh at itself in favor of political correctness and Identity Politics. I would like to think I am open and progressive, but when I hear and read the way some people in their teens and 20s talk nowadays, I become emotionally exhausted, I just can’t keep up with what is correct and what isn’t. That makes me feel really old, though I still have a while to go before I reach Serenata’s age.

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    • Totally agree! It ought to be possible to be progressive without being utterly serious about it all the time – after all, the ridiculousness of life is what makes it fun! It’s the perpetual outrage that wears me out – I’m sure I wasn’t outraged all the time when I was young. Nor did I examine every word looking for reasons to be offended. Being woke always makes me feel as if I need a little nap…

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  4. Oh, so much of what you say resonated with me, FictionFan! And it sounds like there’s some fantastic wit in it, too, which I especially appreciate. That blend of wit and social commentary is really not easy to achieve! Still going back to how much this hit home for me…

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    • Haha, I loved that Serenata seemed to have read my mind, and I bet I’m not alone! Shriver often appears as a talking head on arts programmes over here and I’ve always loved her wit – sharp and a bit wicked, and she won’t allow anyone to tell her how she should think.

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  5. I tried to read We Need to Talk About Kevin when it first came out, but I was only a teenager and it was far too dark for me (I suspect it still would be) so I abandoned it quickly. I remember liking Shriver’s writing style though and this sounds a lot less grim, so perhaps if I decide I want to give her another go this would be a good place to start.

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    • I’ve had We Need to Talk About Kevin on my TBR for centuries, and another one I’ve temporarily forgotten the name of, so having enjoyed this one so much I really need to dig those out. This one wasn’t dark at all, although it had it’s serious side beneath the humour – a sort of commentary on ageing generally.

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    • Hahaha, give it another few years and you will actually be that person – it comes to us all! 😉 I loved Serenata – I think she’d been reading my mind… 😀

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  6. Brilliant review, FF! I was never a marathon-runner, but I can see where this book might provide more than a few rueful laughs. Funny how we’re all a product of our generations, isn’t it — and how one generation never thinks the others have any sense at all!!

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    • Thank you! Yes, while I was complaining about all these young things being rude to people my age, it occurred to me that my generation called anyone over the age of about thirty “square”, or if we were being really rude, “wrinklies”. So I guess it’s karma… 😉

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  7. That does sound like fun. All the sitcoms I grew up with would be banned now – can you imagine what the youth of today would make of Allo Allo, or even Only Fools and Horses? One episode of Fawlty Towers has already been temporarily banned!

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    • Haha, I know – all this political correctness has killed humour! And being older than you, I remember even worse ones, like Love Thy Neighbour which ITV has probably buried in a secret vault now, or burned at midnight under a blasted oak. 😉

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  8. At first, I didn’t think this sounded good since I’m definitely not a fitness buff…. but your review gives me second thoughts. I have a feeling I would have a great deal in common with Serenata, aside from fitness. Great review!!

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    • Thank you! Yeah, I’m not a fitness person either, but she does that side of it all tongue-in-cheek, making fun of it all, so that worked for me. I loved Serenata – I feel as if we are twin souls, or maybe she’s been reading my mind… 😉

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    • I know she’s written some fairly dark stuff in the past so I was surprised at how entertaining this one was, though she was making some serious points too. If you go for it, I hope you enjoy it!

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  9. I’m not always strongly drawn to realistic contemporary fiction, but I’ll heed your recommendation and add this to my list. I’ve managed to achieve worn out joints without ever having indulged in excessive exercise, so I’ll probably appreciate a bit of cynicism in that regard!

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    • Contemporary fiction is hit and miss for me, but this one is definitely a hit! Haha, I could sympathise with her knees too, though in my case I’m sure it’s from the weight of cats sitting on them… 😉

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  10. I’m definitely going to read this book as it sounds so much fun. I’m now also wondering if I’ve missed something by not reading any of her other books since a failed early attempt to read the ‘Talking about Kevin’ book put me off – I saw her interviewed about it when it was first published, rushed to get it from the library, and then totally failed to engage with it !! 🙂

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    • I’ve been meaning to read Kevin for years – I even own a copy! But I get the impression from other people that’s it’s much darker and more serious than this one. This one does have serious aspects but the overall tone is light and there’s a lot of humour in it. I loved Serenata – hope you do too! 😀

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  11. The only Shriver I’ve read is We Need to Talk About Kevin so it’s hard to imagine her as funny. I think I might be too in between age wise to love this one. I’m not quite grumpy old lady yet but I feel it creeping up on me!

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    • It’ll happen before you know… 😉 Yes, I’m the opposite now – I can’t imagine her having written something as seemingly dark as Kevin. But that makes me want to read it all the more, to see how her style works for that.

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  12. This sounds like a version of Liane Moriarty’s cultural humor. Sounds tempting, but am not sure I have the will to add it to the pile, at least right now. Maybe when I’m ready to let the stack threaten to bury me alive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • To be honest, I think she’s a far superior writer to Liane Moriarty, but I see what you mean. I think my stack has maybe already buried me alive – with constant lockdowns I haven’t done a run to donate books to the charity shops for ages, and my house is taking on the appearance of a book-dump!

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  13. I can see myself becoming a grumpy old lady in a short amount of time so I think I’d really like this one. Her writing has a wonderfully entertaining edge to it, doesn’t she? I get the sense she just doesn’t care what anyone else thinks about her books, which is quite refreshing, and probably why she’s able to deal with so many different topics…

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    • Yes, that’s the impression I’ve always had of her when she’s appeared as a “talking head” – she just says what she thinks, and if she upsets the sensitive plants out there, she sees that as their problem, not hers. I’m looking forward to reading more of her stuff!

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