Review: Female of the Species

Lionel Shriver (of The Post-Birthday World and We Need to Talk About Kevin fame) sure can write a pretty title–this one being The Female of the Species. And check out the awesome cover with lions on it:

How can you NOT want to read something like that? Goes without saying, then, that I was excited to read something by Shriver.  I’ve heard a lot of good things about her, so when I was last in a bookstore I wandered around with her name in my mind. Unluckily for me, this was the only book of hers they had. (Light spoilers ahoy!)

Basically, The Female of the Species is the story of a famous and well-respected anthropologist who is brutally taken down by late-in-life love during the 1980s, documented by her lifelong assistant and friend.

Oy, this book. My main problem with it was that I was unable to relate or even sympathize with any of the characters. Errol, the reader’s proxy, is spineless and way too obsessed with Gray. His mental “home movies” are a cheap way of sharing information with the reader that we otherwise wouldn’t know, and honestly, just plain weird. (Because I know I TOTALLY imagine my best friend having sex in an incredibly detailed manner. You don’t??) I didn’t find Gray to be brilliant, admirable, or strong — just irritating. Raphael was sleazy and the attempt to humanize him through his difficult childhood felt condescending.

And Raphael’s true motives are so transparent from the moment he steps onto the scene, the fact that Gray couldn’t or wouldn’t see through him made me question her sanity. I almost couldn’t believe that everything ended up the way it did, because it was so predictable from the start. I kept hoping for a twist that never came. (And that New York City scene was riiiidiculous. Not only cliched, but totally stereotyped and offensive.)

In fairness, I did enjoy Gray’s Africa flashback scenes. I would definitely read a story all about young Gray or Corgie and their adventures. Too bad that wasn’t this book.

I still want to give Shriver a chance, though. This was her first novel and so I’d imagine a lot of her kinks in her writing weren’t worked out yet. Next time I’ll make sure I pick up something of hers that’s a bit more recent…or use the library.

If you want some good storytelling, read Joyce Carol Oates’ The Female of the Species instead. Same title, crazy good stories.

Bookwanderer Rating: One star

Bookwanderer Tagline: Can you believe a hot 20-something wasn’t with an emotionally-closed off 50-something because of true love?

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5 Responses to “Review: Female of the Species”


  1. 1 Lisa February 15, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    Ouch! I read We Need To Talk About Kevin and it is a fantastic but very painful book to read. Shriver didn’t write any characters I could relate to, but that was okay because I did want to know what happened to them. This one I will stay away from.

  2. 2 tarynwanderer February 15, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    I hated to be so hard on Shriver, but I didn’t even want to know what happened to these characters–I just wanted it to be over! I’m glad to hear that her other books are better and I definitely want to give We Need to Talk About Kevin a chance.

    Thanks for dropping by, Lisa!

  3. 3 Christy February 18, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    I loved The Post-Birthday World, the only book I’ve read by Shriver. To be honest, I almost gave up on it 50 pages in, but I’m so glad I kept going. It has a clever, but not too-clever, framework, with its parallel narratives. It rings with emotional truth, even if my life is nothing like any of the characters.

    As much as I loved this book, your review warns me off this first effort. I do want to read We Need to Talk About Kevin though.

  4. 4 https://fgn.Zendesk.com/entries/45211895-adult-recommendations August 8, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    I like what you guys are up too. This type of clever work and coverage!
    Keep up the awesome works guys I’ve included yyou guys to
    our blogroll.


  1. 1 Review: Horns « bookwanderer Trackback on March 11, 2010 at 8:42 am

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