In Lionel Shriver’s send-up of today’s cult of exercise—which not only encourages better health, but now like all religions also seems to promise meaning, social superiority, and eternal life—an aging husband’s sudden obsession with extreme sport makes him unbearable.
Lionel Shriver’s scabrously funny 15th novel presents a dyspeptic view of people in thrall to exercise ... It’s interesting that given her own obsessive exercise regimen, Shriver is prepared to admit to being part of the problem. The novel even goes so far as to posit a contemporary definition of what the word 'problematic' has come to mean: 'It’s, like, a great big giant word for everything that’s super bad.' Shriver’s contentious views on diversity are no secret ... The Motion of the Body Through Space is proof, if it were needed, that Shriver’s natural response to an open wound is to pour on more salt ... Shriver’s essential bugbear is that, taken to extremes, the concept of cultural appropriation prohibits the act of fiction writing itself ... The grand irony of course is that The Motion of the Body Through Space is a novel drawn from the first-hand experience of a writer who monitors her frequency of star jumps and has been on the receiving end of a pasting for her views on diversity. Certainly it’s problematic - but few authors can be as entertainingly problematic as Shriver.
The prospective thrill of a new novel by the iconoclast Lionel Shriver is located here, in anticipating the skewing of pieties, your pity be damned ... Her 15th novel, The Motion of the Body Through Space, is certainly no wilting lily. The dialogue is barbed and the characters immediately at odds ... I am enormously sympathetic to unsympathetic characters, and I greatly admire Shriver’s willingness in the early going to have other characters push back on Serenata’s absurd and caustic misanthropy. But when the exposition shifts out of neutral and into permanent alignment with Serenata’s perspective, the other characters lose their potency as viable sources of objection and enlightenment — and not for Serenata alone. They turn into straw men ... the reader, too, slowly comes unmoored ... The novel is good at establishing the us-versus-them mentality of a long marriage ... Throughout The Motion of the Body Through Space, I was desperate to do one of two things: to extend my sympathies to Serenata, or to watch as Shriver served her up as harshly as Serenata herself would have ... And Shriver’s sympathies, so clearly and uniquely reserved for Serenata, restrain her from real daring ... I kept thinking: Who cares? ... There is a provocative argument running through this unrelentingly didactic book, which posits that extreme sports might be a kind of white sickness ... I found it ironic, and lamentable, that Shriver did not deal as boldly with Serenata as she does with her race.
I found it hard to admire until I got to the last third—and then I was both moved and entertained. But I suspect a lot of readers will not make it that far ... Some of it is painfully funny, a lot of it is exaggerated (Remington’s many near-death experiences), and much of it rings true. The book lacks the subtlety of Shriver’s earlier novels. Very little is left to the reader to figure out. We know what Shriver thinks because she bangs us over the head with it for 300 pages. She also takes time to mock the modern cultural conventions that have been eating away at her for the past few years: the issue of cultural appropriation in the arts; identity politics; the #MeToo movement; even trendy phrases such as bucket list and boomer. Nothing escapes her scorn, and it’s a pity because most of that scorn is unnecessary. Her brutal mocking of the concept of white privilege is certain to appall and infuriate many readers ... I’d like to recommend that you just skip the first 200 pages of Motion and get right to the good parts ... But without the troublesome first part, you wouldn’t know how good it actually becomes.