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?