A review of the novel “The Motion Of The Body Through Space” by Lionel Shriver

Lionel Shriver is actually a female American novelist who, as a tomboy aged 15, informally changed her name from Margaret Ann to Lionel. She is best known for her eighth novel “We Need To Talk About Kevin” but the only previous novel of hers that I’ve read is “The Post-Birthday World” (which was I was given). “..Motion..” is her 16th novel and again I only read the work because I was given it (by the same person). 

The point of view is that of Serenata Terpsichore, a 60 year old American voiceover artist, who is married to Remington Alabaster, a transport planner, who is four years her senior. Their children are called Valeria (a born-again Christian) and Deacon (a drug dealer). There is a personal trainer called Bambi Buffer. My first problem with the book was getting over these weird names. 

Serenata has been a lifelong serious exerciser who now has to give up her regimes because of osteoarthritis but, following the loss of his job, Remington – who has previously done no exercise – decides that he is going to run a marathon which is just the start of a series of outlandish physical endeavours. The novel is partially autobiographical because Shriver herself is in her 60s and follows an obsessive exercise regime and she seems to have the self-contained, somewhat anti-social, even selfish, character of her protagonist.

“..Motion..” has three themes: the adjustments that a married couple has to make as they grow older; the futility and indeed damage of extreme exercise; and the excesses of what Shriver would consider political correctness (although she never uses this term). 

As a man of a certain age who has never really exercised beyond daily walks, I warm to the first two themes but, as a political liberal, I found the third theme deeply problematic. There is a section of almost 20 pages chronicling Remington’s disciplinary hearing that cynically misrepresents efforts to increase diversity in the workplace. It does not add to the narrative but simply betrays the author’s publicly-expressed illiberal views.

In an Afterword, she writes The very best thing about getting old was basking in this great big not-giving-a-shit” and records that “Serenata was not obliged to give a flying fig about climate change, species extinction, or nuclear proliferation”. In fact, although I too am getting old, I do very much give a shit and a flying fig about these and many other issues.

Having said all this, Shriver is a fine writer with a sharp sense of wit and much of the novel is a pleasure to read if rather over-burdened with the detail of running and cycling and swimming and all three in the same event. I guess than eventually I concur with a review in the “Guardian” newspaper: “Certainly it’s problematic – but few authors can be as entertainingly problematic as Shriver”.


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