“The Last Shall Be First”: A Novel by Lionel Shriver | NDR.de – culture – book

Status: 06/02/2022 06:00

Lionel Shriver’s latest book is an elegant, at times painful, novel about a marriage on the rocks and the aging we all cannot escape.

by Katja Essbach

Serenata and Remington are in their 60s and have been together for many years. The children have left home and life has become quieter. But then Remington brings his wife out of balance with a single sentence:

“I decided to run a marathon.” In a mediocre sitcom, she would have spat coffee all over her breakfast. But Serenata was a reserved person and just between sips. “What?” Her tone was a little mischievous but polite.
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After the marathon is before the triathlon

Remington is not in the best shape of his life at this point, and his relationship with the sport has always been theoretical. His wife, on the other hand, was athletic with no goals. Until her arthritic knee forced her to stop. And now she wonders why Remington will start walking now that she can no longer. And he simply feels anger in her:

Their different views on this great project created a rift between them that should not have arisen at their age. (…) After a long, happy marriage in a coziness that tended to be underestimated, she had forgotten what it was like not to know what was going on in his head and to be haunted by a certain fear of, that she would not like it if she ever knew.
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Remington actually runs the marathon, Serenata hopes everything will go back to how it used to be. What she did not count on was Bambi, a personal trainer who encourages Remington to do something much more violent: a triathlon.

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A pointed story with a mean tone

Of course, as it sounds, Lionel Shriver did not write a novel about athletes who had gone mad. Sport is just the tool to tell about how the statics of this marriage are changing. And it has been unstable for some time as Remington lost his job to defy his young black boss, whom Remington felt was underqualified and overwhelmed.

Unfortunately, Lionel Shriver stays on the surface of the rather boldly described story of termination, and she can not trigger any sparks from it, neither in terms of content nor literature. Other than that, she tells a very pointed story with a nice evil tone and funny, sometimes bad scenes:

Valeria hoisted the seven-month-old boy up on her sweeping waist, as if she were carrying a six-round revolver. You could not criticize a mother and baby, you could not speak unkindly in the presence of a mother and baby, and you could not ask a mother and baby awkward, curious or difficult questions – for the Madonna next to the Dodge Grand Caravan radiated well-being , holiness and self-sacrifice, by which she was exalted above reproaches.
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Valeria is the daughter of Remington and Serenata. Years ago, she fell into a Christian fundamentalist sect and had severed contact with her parents. Now it is back and nurturing old conflicts.

“The Last Shall Be First” is an elegant, at times painful, novel about a marriage in turmoil and the aging we all cannot escape.

The last will be the first

by Lionel Shriver

Page number:
432 pages
More info:
From the American by Bettina Abarbanell and Nikolaus Hansen
Order number:
€ 24

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NDR Culture | New books | 06/02/2022 | 12:40

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