Book Talk: Lionel Shriver finds illness can bring out the worst

Wed May 26, 2010 8:28am EDT
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By Belinda Goldsmith

SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - When author Lionel Shriver took on the topic of illness and relationships in her latest novel, she had no idea that the reaction would give her a new insight into human nature -- and not necessarily a positive one.

In her latest and 10th novel, "So Much Tor That," Shriver focuses on the devastating effect of illness on relationships, how friends and family often flee rather than face the patient.

Shriver, who won the 2005 Orange Prize for her eighth novel "We Need to Talk About Kevin," said the death of a close friend, Terri, led to the book with the main character in the novel, Glynis, suffering the same cancer, mesothelioma, as her friend.

Shriver, 52, an American who currently lives in London, spoke to Reuters while in Australia for the Sydney Writers' Festival:

Q: How has the reaction to your novel surprised you?

A: "Part of the revelation about this novel has been post-publication. I have found it disheartening to find that this business of people making themselves scarce when someone gets sick is horrifically widespread. I would theorize that this tendency is worse now than it used to be. I can't say for sure but my impression is that we are less comfortable than we used to be with illness and mortality."

Q: Why do you think that is so?

A: "We don't see death as people die in hospital. They used to die at home. They used to die younger so children grew up watching their grandparents die. I am not a sociologist but I know death has become strange. This is especially intense in the United States where all this money is spent on heath care and there is a vague impression that you can buy yourself out of death."   Continued...