Lionel Shriver is in top form with her latest novel, Should We Stay Or Should We Go, in which she takes on mortality, longevity and living a life of one’s one control, all with a shockingly humorous, non-maudlin touch. Her two main characters, Kay and Cyril Wilkinson, make a pact at age 50 that they are going to carry out a suicide pact when they turn 80, so that they can avoid long, protracted deaths from Alzheimers or other diseases, sparing their kids and society the expense of keeping them alive and giving themselves agency over when and how to die. When they turn 80, though, they have to ask themselves and each other: are they ready to go? What happens if one is and one isn’t? And what will they be missing by prematurely ending their lives? Each chapter imagines a different scenario for Kay and Cyril, making Should We Stay Or Should We Go a thought-provoking, suspenseful and – surprisingly – entertaining read.
Why I picked it up: I love Lionel Shriver and thought the premise of this one sounded brilliant. (It was.)
Lionel Shriver is a genius. Her words are eloquent, to be sure, but beyond that her mind is so sharp and flexible that she is able to tell the same story with a different ending 12 times, making each one feel fresh and original, while threading themes and details throughout each of the chapters that carry out a different recipe each time. Sometimes things end well for Kay and Cyril, and sometimes they don’t. There are chapters that dabble in science fiction, others in dystopia, some chapters that portray the Wilkinson marriage as dysfunctional and some as loving, and still others that make sharp commentary about social issues facing contemporary Britain, like Brexit and coronavirus. Each one contributes something different to the collection and addresses end of life in a way that makes you think, revisit, ponder and grieve. Is it better to go out on a high? What do we owe to the people we leave behind? Is there such a thing as too long of a life?
Plus, Shriver’s writing is, as always, sharp and acerbic, often sarcastic but tender when the book calls for it. I am a big Shriver fan and have read many, but not all, of her books (The Post-Birthday World, We Need To Talk About Kevin, Big Brother, So Much For That). Should We Stay Or Should We Go ranks up there as one of my favorites. It’s also one of the the first fiction books I’ve read that incorporates coronavirus, though this is not really pandemic fiction, as coronavirus becomes one of the challenges Kay and Cyril need to wade through rather than a central plot point.
Should We Stay Or Should We Go gets 5 stars from me. I listened to it on audio via narrator Hannah Curtis, who was perfect! Very British. I’d recommend this in audio or in print.
Should We Stay Or Should We Go was book #55 of 2021.