“The Trouble Is….

….You Think You Have Time”

This quote is often attributed to The Buddha.  But as this article highlights, it is actually an interpretation of The Buddha’s teachings, perhaps derived from a quote by Carlos Castanena.

In any event, it is the perfect sub-heading for Lionel Shriver’s book So Much For That.

Published in 2010, I have had a copy of this book on my shelves for many years.  I have even started it a few times.  I am not sure why it took a hold this time around.  Maybe it was a case of “when the student is ready, the master appears” – another ‘fake Buddha quote’!  But having started, I could not put it down.

Don’t get me wrong – this is by no means an easy read.  It is not a page turner in the conventional sense.  Anyone familiar with Shriver’s work will perhaps understand how she can lure in the reader, even unwillingly.  Those who may have read We Need To Talk About Kevin will know how gothic her writing can be – ‘behind the sofa’ reading in some cases.

So Much For That is not this kind of read, however.  It is about normal people going about their everyday lives, coping with every day, albeit extreme problems.  The lure for the reader comes through the realisation that you could find yourselves with a version of their difficulties at any moment.  Indeed some of my friends have been in similar situations (albeit with the benefit of the UK National Health Service, thank heavens); I winced through the whole book on their behalf and forced myself not to look away.

The story focuses on Shepherd Knacker, who dreams of escaping from the drudgery of American life with his family to somewhere more exotic.  Having sold his firm, however, he has not been able to make the leap, and early on the book, we find that he is unlikely to be able to do so because he needs to continue to work to retain his employee health insurance – we discover that his wife, Glynis has a very serious form of cancer.  Health insurance in America being what it is, Shepherd finds that his plan does not cover his wife’s specialist treatments and so he unquestioningly uses his savings to cover the costs.

Although the main theme of the book is ostensibly about health care provision in the USA, there are many, much more important threads running alongside and underneath: how to face serious illness and the prospect of one’s own death and the loss of one’s partner; the importance of money, and money verses quality of life – in other words, how much money does one need to have a good quality of life; what is important in life; is there any point having money if the method of earning it makes you miserable and prevents you from spending time with those you love.

It sounds as if this is a bleak book to read.  It depends on your point of view.  I found it to be extremely compelling, and in the end hugely emotional.  Not so much because of what happens to the characters, although I was pleased to have read the story.  No – I was deeply affected by the lessons one can draw for one’s own life.  We all know intrinsically about the importance of living life to the full; living in the moment; making the most of what we have.  But a novel like this, with its calm, relentless style, helps one to realise that there is not a minute to lose because we never know what is around the corner.

“There is no wealth but life.”
John Ruskin


15 thoughts on ““The Trouble Is….

  1. I haven’t read it Liz but I now fully intend to. When I had cancer some years back I often felt so truly blessed to live in Britain and could not imagine how Americans with no, or iffy, health insurance could cope. It sounds such am interesting book. The question of what we earn money for is an infinite question! Thanks for this review. If you haven’t read Big Brother or Double Fault I recommend them, although this sounds in another league. My only question is – has she ever created a likeable character??

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for this Liz. I will try those other books – I am on ‘The Post-Birthday World’ at the moment. ‘So Much For That’ is pretty unmissable if you can face it – it is rather graphic about the wife’s cancer treatment so be warned.


    1. Thanks very much Clare. Yes, I know what you mean about the challenge of living life to the full. I guess all we can do is have a go, albeit by understanding that even relatively small things can help us realise that we are living a good and happy life.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I am not very far through PBW but it looks good so far. Thanks v much for snooker loopy – a great blast from the past! I m quite a closet snooker fan and always watch the world championships! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve finally read it! You are right, Liz (of course), it is a deeply impressive book. The American health care system is truly iniquitous and if Obamacare has lifted even 10% of the misery it causes, then it is a profound legacy. As you say it really sharply raises the way in which a small stray step or unexpected event can find you on a path accelerating far away from where you thought your life was going. The disintegration of Jackson, the way the fault lines in his personality just got more and more exposed, was very well done and quite sympathetic I thought. He’d have been out there supporting Trump don’t you think? I thought it also raises big questions about how we want to die. Have you come across Atul Gawande’s book “Being Mortal” at all? This confronts head on some of these questions, and in particular the way the medical profession has become focused solely on extending life and not on what makes life worthwhile. Shep’s comment “Those weren’t a good three months, doctor” goes to the heart of this. I found the dishonesty – or lack of honesty – of the oncologists appalling. How can someone decide what they are prepared to go through, if they don’t know what they might gain from it? It is morally wrong. I know they can’t guarantee outcomes, but people should be able to choose, including knowing where the uncertainties are. Shriver is very talented, isn’t she? I take back my earlier comment that she never creates anyone likeable. The ending was a bit Hollywood, very uncharacteristic! Though I suppose it’s relative if half the characters end up dead. At least she didn’t have the viper Beryl redeem herself! Anyway it is a terrific book and thank you for drawing attention to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Liz, thank you so much for this, and your follow-up comment. Completely agree (of course!) with everything you say, and am so interested to hear about your own experience. Thank you also for the recommendation about Being Mortal, which I shall look up. It sounds similar to another book I have just finished – Do No Harm – which I am about to post about (tomorrow hopefully). Such difficult decisions, these ones about what makes a good life, and a good death. I am reminded of some of the very challenging cases which were dealt with when I was working with the Court of Appeal Judges – the conjoined twins case has always stuck in my mind – the Lord Justice tackling that one used to pace up and down the RCJ corridors thinking about it, and no wonder. I cannot begin to imagine the difficulties dealing with such issues.


  3. Also, sorry – her descriptions of some of the cancer stuff are brilliant! Luckily for me I had very little indeed of Glynis’s experience, but where I did, she was spot on! For example I also had dreams about rot beneath the surface, though just before my diagnosis in my case. And giving the drugs silly names (thank you, Toxy Moxy!) When I lost my hair I wore a beanie sometimes and sometimes went bareheaded: if people didn’t like to see it, that was their problem, not mine, and I was a little surprised Glynis didn’t have the same attitude in that respect. But it’s good seeing it written about so well by someone.

    Liked by 1 person

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