Have patience with the first chapter of Lionel Shriver’s new novel ... As [the protagonists] go over the pros and cons, they sound less like characters than authorial mouthpieces. But their exchange is actually a canny setup for a wildly inventive and sometimes hilarious novel on a sober subject ... She also creates a composite portrait of a married couple and their three children that, for all its contradictions, hangs together with glorious plausibility. Indeed, by paying as much attention to what Kay or Cyril don’t do in some scenarios, she digs into corners of their characters that no single account of 'what happened' could ever reveal. Twelve different stories unfold—and you need all 12 ... Shriver may be a contrarian—but she has a sense of humor about it. More to the point, she never lets her politics interfere with the sheer zest of her imagination. The fugue-like pleasures of the novel, as key passages and images recur in ever-shifting patterns with ever-differing outcomes, are intense ... a delight to read—even as it leaves you wondering if maybe now is the right time to get hold of a lethal cocktail.
We are reading a novel of issues, a thesis novel concerning euthanasia and medical rationing. It’s not ripped from the headlines, perhaps, but neatly clipped from them, its manner quippy, satirical and arch, its characters capable of op-ed-style rants on the questions at hand, and on many others too ... If a writer is going to hang a story on the question of a suicide pact’s fulfillment, it is probably best if the characters involved are ones whom we fondly desire to see survive. After fully meeting the Wilkinsons, it is hard not to wish them exactly the sort of fate that they’ve devised for themselves ... fanciful science-fiction-style chapters are diverting and welcome in such a morbid narrative, though their morals are glum: We may triumph over mortality, but we can’t escape ourselves ... Yet the novel isn’t really about death, one learns while negotiating its branching paths. It’s about marriage. The persistence of relationships. For whatever direction the Wilkinsons’ lives take, or history takes, they always end up together, chattering, spatting and laughing, drinks in hand. It’s a charming notion, circuitously stated: When two become one, they need never part again.
... a work of undeniable moral seriousness, yet one that’s never just a series of (admittedly juicy) discussion points. Even the most fantastical outcomes are envisaged with exhilarating thoroughness — while Cyril and Kay remain the same richly conceived characters throughout. Despite the grimness of the premise, the book also offers the stirring sight of a writer clearly enjoying herself. There are plenty of good jokes and several playful references to Shriver’s previous fiction ... Shriver said that her favourite novels are those that pack both an intellectual and emotional punch. With Should We Stay or Should We Go, she’s added triumphantly to their number.
... both disquieting and droll ... hideous — but also hilarious. Through the potent spell of Shriver’s language, horror gets alchemised into amusement. Fiery phrases spit and crackle. Disgust expands and bursts into belly laughs ... what is genuinely topical is Shriver’s immersion in contemporary debates ... With a keen ear for the bleating of the loony left, Shriver seems weirdly undisturbed by the barking of the rabid right. It could be tiresome, except that here too the cynical verve of her prose redeems it. The effect is strange, as if the dimmest, most bumptious Brexiteer had suddenly been endowed with dazzling wit. Funny stuff — but then, in both senses, this is a very funny book.
... a novel of riotous, occasionally bilious satire that asks how long we want to live and how we wish to die ... the novel has enormous fun examining every possible outcome for the couple ... The possible futures become increasingly wild ... there’s something bracing about reading a novelist so admirably heartless, watching her pull the legs off her characters again and again. While it’s near-heretical to say so, I think Shriver’s novels are wonderful. Not only is it salutary to have a provocateur and gadfly in our midst, a libertarian Brexiter in a literary culture that otherwise sticks slavishly to the same liberal line, but her books are fun, smart and, perhaps because of their author’s unconventional political views, unlike anything else you’ll read.
Readers of Shriver’s previous work will recognize the bluntly unsentimental attitude, and the smooth way she inserts essential details into the couple’s post-funeral conversation ... can appear heartless as the author rearranges her plot pieces into new formations with almost insolent ease, disdaining anything as cheap as an appeal for readers’ emotional engagement. It’s only gradually apparent that this sharp-elbowed satire is also a brusquely tender portrait of enduring love ... Shriver isn’t interested in reassuring us, but in the closing chapter, 'The Last Last Supper,' she gives us something more satisfying than reassurance or facile sentiment: a couple honestly assessing their 57 years of marriage and affirming their commitment to each other.
Shriver...delivers on a high-concept premise full of alternative narratives based around themes of illness and aging ... There is sometimes outlandish humor and periods of magical thinking in their dialogue, all rendered to brilliant effect. Readers will be entranced by Shriver’s freewheeling meditation on mortality and human agency.
Shriver has written her best novel since The Post-Birthday World (2007) ... the multiple perspectives produce a tender and complex portrait of the central couple. Mortality, Shriver finds, needn’t be morbid; one of her imagined futures is downright pleasant and testifies to humanity’s adaptability. It reads a bit awkwardly, but that'll happen when a writer tries something new. A return to form, merging Shriver’s better instincts as both novelist and social critic.