I haven’t loved every Lionel Shriver book I’ve read, but like T.C. Boyle and Margaret Atwood (other authors for whom I’d read the phone book if their name was on the cover) even her misses are so well crafted that I’ll likely get around to reading her complete works eventually.
Shriver’s strengths are on display here, with well crafted characters she’s not afraid to make truly flawed, bordering on unlikeable. In part because she’s unsparing, casting light on parts of humanity that are both incredibly relatable and also difficult to confront, her books can be a tough sell, so I can’t imagine that the synopsis of the “A” plot is going to have many rushing to add this to their amazon carts. Our protagonist ex-lawyer Kellogg ends up in Barba, a peninsula attempting to secede from Portugal via reactionary means, while investigating his predecessor’s disappearance. It’s very much a post 9/11 The Third Man, which seems like it would be a harder read than this ended up being.
That’s because terrorism journalism is just the backdrop for the “B” plot; this, like all of Shriver’s books that I’ve read thus far, is about how bad people are at knowing what they really want, and how they destroy themselves to get what won’t bring them happiness. Shriver’s treatment of Kellogg’s ambition is both pitiful and empathetic, that he ends up compromising himself utterly for something as petty as popularity is both disgusting and something we’ve all done to some degree. It’s kind of amazing how good Shriver is at examining things we’d rather not know about ourselves, so it goes without saying there were things I disliked, but on the whole, this is right up there with Double Fault and We Need to Talk About Kevin for me.