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Set against the vivid backdrop of modern day Africa—a continent now primarily populated with wildlife of the two legged sort—Lionel Shriver's Game Control is a wry grimly comic tale of bad ideas and good intentions Eleanor Merritt a do gooding American family planning worker was drawn to Kenya to improve the lot of the poor Unnervingly she finds herself falling in love with the beguiling Calvin Piper despite or perhaps because of his misanthropic theories about population control and the future of the human race Surely Calvin whispers seductively in Eleanor's ear if the poor are a responsibility they are also an impositionWith a deft droll touch Shriver highlights the hypocrisy of lofty intellectuals who would save humanity but who don't like people

10 thoughts on “Game Control

  1. says:

    In my opinion this is not the best of Lionel Shriver's novels The story is inventive but the it is difficult to warm to any of the characters or care about their fate The basic premise of the novel and the theoretical underpinnng of the politics of population control is interesting but it is difficult to invest emotionally with the characters

  2. says:

    Oh dear oh dearThis reads like the first novel of a 21 yo former teen bully who thinks that the fact she went on a gap year to Kenya is so interesting it supersedes the reuirements of other novels namely a plot anyone to root for decent research or non laziness in generalAlmost all Shriver novels suffer in the above departments it’s worth pointing out In order to scour her books for her insights and hard truths that you know but that no one will say delivering relief and kinship you have to put up with big rambles and garrulous pontifications and the least likeable people you’ve ever met in literature delivering speeches of near Ayn Rand proportions that you wish would all just die already if they didn’t have just one interesting thing to say And the wildest speech tags you’ve ever read in your life Groaned concurred I’m drawing a blank thankfully And the character names? What has she got against Steve Smith or Holly Jones? Eva Khatchadourian? Glynis Knacker? Is this a sci fi? So badShriver says she writes about characters that are hard to love Hard to love for sure but hard to like? Having read so much of her books now I think I’ve figured it out she has a hatred for sincerity She wants to eliminate genuine affection or the basic everyday signs of love It blows my mind whenever her characters confess their love for each other hey this is obvs a delicate thing to get right you never know when you’ve demonstrated enough chemistry because no one understands love or agree to do stuff to help each other out I have to flick back any number of pages to see if I missed the point at which they expressed any interest in each other Nope there isn’t one without evidence you are asked just to believe it poor formStephen King I think rightly said that all bad writing comes from fear and Shriver’s fear is triteness But she disproves the hypotheses set out by her books that suggest that any relationship can feasibly survive without a drop of affection it can’t It makes for unrealistic tedious and repellent readingThough to be fair Shriver’s not great at finding things in life to enjoy or if she is she’s really bad at communicating that The essay at the end of Ordinary Decent Criminals read like ‘I used to deliberately punish myself with long bike rides and fasting for no reason I hated it Now I don’t and I hate it I need wine for life Do you like it? Good for you Fuck off the end’ Her Guardian essay post Kevin success was like ‘Omg now I have money I can’t pity myself ARRGHHHH’ Her Big Think video was worth watching though because she smiles and laughs when she’s talking at places you wouldn’t expect but on paper nothing seems as comic as perhaps intended Anyways holding my attention for this many books is pretty impressiveOn a wider scale there’s things I see many writers doing that is just creepy In an attempt to give you an intimate picture of a couple they’ll tell you really weird stuff they like about each other In this case one guy wistfully reminisces that his former girlfriend always stank In Double Fault Willy HAH loved that her husband’s tennis stuff came back all sweaty and she taped one of his long grey eyebrows to her wall In A Perfectly Good Family one of the characters had two girlfriends and had “a waxy coating” of plaue lining his gums because he didn’t brush his teeth and liked how he tasted CREEPY Not just Shriver in Fates and Furies after seeing her husband’s opera Mathilde overjoyed by his vision licked him from his neck up the length of his face It’s not an intimate portrayal it’s just disgusting it repels; it has the exact opposite effect intended Luckily Juan doesn’t read my reviews or having learned how I’d hate it if someone licked my face he’d feel overwhelmingly compelled to do it I know the guy and we would need a divorce I know private things about people but only the type they’re willing to share if one of my friends is privately proud of a massive shit he produced I’m happy he’s happy but if he tries to describe it I’ll leave know what I mean? Everything intimate or everything private does not instantly evoke curiosity or interest I almost see what these details are trying to do but also I don’tA recapThe Female of the Species got lost in the post I think 0 what a bad performanceChecker and the Derailleurs 3 Skippable BaggyOrdinary Decent Criminals 3 Had its moments Skippable Rambling and BaggyGame Control More like Lame Con LOLA Perfectly Good Family Oh yeah I read this 3 Skippable baggy Rambling Double Fault 4 Skippable Not bad but done better elsewhereWe Need to Talk about Kevin 8888 have you not read this yet? Then at least live like your heart is intact enough to break at least one time because I know it is Start here and read forwards in time you can miss anything that came beforeThe New Republic Why should I read this?Big Brother 5 If you are a Shriver fan and overlook her Shriving Post Kevin she starts to strike social taboo gold and all those years of practice going for jugulars begins to pay offSo I have So Much For That and The Post Birthday World left to read Promising since they are late Shrivers but I did abandon So Much last year for its relentless misery so we’ll seeOkay so I need a break from Shriver which means I can now make hopefully short work of the wealth of indie material I have gratefully received However will I get through all these passionate works by ordinary people eager to fight for my attention to communicate what they care about in a clear voice Oh noLeo Robertson 10 years Shriving so you don’t have to D

  3. says:

    Unfortunately this book speaks to me a little too much

  4. says:

    I am used to being challenged by Lionel Shriver's books they are always full of intelligent insight and dense prose But there is usually a compelling plot driving thing along and in this particular novel I felt the balance between plot and analysis however intelligent had been tipped too far in the wrong direction There can't be many novels written entirely about demography so top marks both for originality and research It got me thinking about a school geography project I did 35 years ago among the topics to choose from was population and I immediately homed in on it the idea of pages of numbers appealing to my aspergic tendencies It wasn't long before I realised this topic was literally all about sex What a shock that was to my ueasy 12 year old self and I promptly abandoned it in favour of coastal erosion But what's wrong with a book all about sex when you're an adult? Absolutely nothing except that this one was full of people theorising out loud and avoiding having sex The central character beleaguered family planning worker Eleanor is merely a conduit as she visits first one intellectual who regales her with his theories about population control then she visits another who presents the opposite point of view A meeting between the two opposing intellectuals ensues and they argue wordily with each other about population control And repeat Stick with it and a plot with major dramatic potential does emerge but it does take persistence Arriving there was like reaching the summit of Everest you want to stand and look around for a while and reflect on just how few people have stood where you are It is clear from the author's afterword that this wasn't a massive commercial success and that indeed its published form is some one hundred manuscript pages short of its original length so readers count your blessings she comments sardonically A book to read for the sake of completeness and for the thought provoking points it puts forward I can't deny that I'm far better informed about demography than I was when I picked it up

  5. says:

    Lionel Shriver is one of my favourite authors – We Need To Talk About Kevin is one of my favourite books and thoughts about So Much For That still linger closely months after I finished it – but sadly this is the first novel of hers that I’ve read and just didn’t like I pondered over giving it three stars just because Lionel Shriver writes so well but skilled phrasing alone wasn’t enough to rescue this book – if it wasn’t for that I probably wouldn’t have finished the book at all and at times I did feel like giving up It took me over a week to get through this and I found myself wanting to surf the internet on my phone or watch TV during my usual reading times just to avoid it so in the end told myself just to power through the last half which still took two days Admittedly the second half was better than the first largely because it has An Actual Plot unlike the novel’s opening but this in itself was rather bizarre – why introduce thriller elements to what has began as a character studysort of love story albeit without any love or even sex? Read the rest of my review here

  6. says:

    I give up Just can't do it Begging for a book to be over is not the way reading should be Shriver's usually great but this one was painful

  7. says:

    I truly could not imagine a Margaret Ann writing any of these books which would be the truth had Lionel Shriver not legally changed her name The easily recognizable voice she carries in all her novels has wit sarcasm candor and a dark side a Margaret Ann simply could not carry Alas we as readers fortunately do not need to worry about thatTo begin with this novel is about two things arguably in eual doses First the relationship between warm hearted Goody Two Shoes I am a burden for living at all Eleanor almost complete opposite sarcastic apathetic sociopath proudly eleven years celibate I do not care about anyoneanything Calvin Eleanor in a classic opposites attractwant what you cannot have scenario sticks to Calvin like glue gallivanting after him even though he treats her with little respect and his own version of care because of course he cannot care about anyone least of all some altruistic woman As expected there is a story Calvin's heart was hardened when his one love Panga an African arms expertmercenaryhired murderer drowned to death possibly due in some part to his negligence Less expected she floats around his Eleanor's lives literally As some very present spiritSecondly demography Demography is defined as Well Doctor Calvin here believes that well the right solution to our world's population problems is to murder two billion individuals by random mandatory Russian Roulette by the year 1999 takes place in the early 1990s? Let me state what seems obvious to me His deplorable unkind to say it generously personality got really old really fast Probably by the second chapter the novelty was gone I was done listening to his claims that he was pre dead that he could therefore not have any sexual intimacy that he cared for no one nothing His only reason for living is Pachyderm the name for the yet to be discovered magical formula that will mass murder the precise number of individuals his company has deemed ideal Pachyderm is now seven years in the making Why so long? Well there are many parameters mostly created by Calvin For example The AIDS virus will not work because it targets at an uneual distribution on the socioeconomic strata while the correct airborne virus will leave a sufficient adult workforce In other parameters Calvin has decided to find a way to exclude all Jews He feels they have already paid their duesHis team UIETUS uorum of United International Efforts at Triage for Ultimate Sustainability has over three hundred employees uarantined in a secret lab accessible only by air No one can ever leaveThis great man so vain so unlovable except by this pretty unbelievable Eleanor started as a representative for The USAID's Population Division That is until he was discovered sending birth control vacuum aspirators and the like to countries where they were illegal Since then clearly his aspirations have only become much ambitiousAnd so what do we have? Not much to love unless demography is a passion of yours It is therefore not shocking that this was one of Shriver's least successful ventures losing her a publisher for a couple titles according to her We have one easily hateable main character supposedly hero An almost eually hateable heroine if for nothing else her stupidity; her willingness to do everything for said lead male Then a lot of research on the world's population problems demography epidemiology how life is in Africa these days Thus as an educational informational source? Excellent As an endearing even fun fictional story? Not so much Average at best only because Shriver knows how to write

  8. says:

    Eleanor Merritt is an American born aid worker in her late 30s travelling around her part of Africa with a briefcase full of condoms and preaching birth control in a land where nobody's taking much notice Eleanor is a woman who's easy to ignore even though she speaks Swahili and tries very hard to please everyone She feels terribly embarrassed about having staff is a soft touch for everyone around her with their hand out and suffers or perhaps enjoys social invisibility Eleanor lacks confidence in herself and her professional role and wonders if she'll ever find a man to make her feel special Every relationship goes bad – for example there was one guy who went back to the USA for three weeks holiday and just never came back Keeping that in mind she seems to be barking up entirely the wrong tree by falling for Calvin Piper the ex elephant culler turned demographer and disgraced ex head of an American aid agency who was sacked for supplying abortion euipment to African clinics Eleanor and Calvin have 'history' – they shared a single night of what might be called passion in any other man but seems misplaced in his case a decade and a half before but Calvin's changed Calvin has given up on sex and pretty much given up on emotions and humankind too though he seems to have a grudging fondness for his pet green monkey who travels around sitting on his shoulder Calvin is a man so cold and misanthropic that he tells anyone who'll listen that the only way forward is mass control of the population He points out that birth control just isn't working and the planet can't keep supporting the booming population Something drastic is needed and he has plenty of rat experiments up his sleeve to paint a picture of what would happen to society if nothing is done to stem the human flood In the opposite corner sits his arch nemesis Wallace Threadgill who maintains that population growth fires up creativity leads to evolution and the generation of great ideas and invention He puts it to Eleanor that in the time it took for the world population to double food output went up four fold Population growth must therefore be a good thing The truth probably sits somewhere between the two ideas of the two men but neither is flexibleGame Control takes the issue of population control far further than might be expected in a novel with a love story at its heart but perhaps given that it's a Lionel Shriver novel we shouldn't be surprised Why would a woman who is best known for tackling the issues of a mother who hates her child and a child who becomes a killer in We Need to Talk About Kevin be nervous about proposing an audacious plan to wipe out one third of humanity? For that's what Calvin Piper has in mind and along the way he wants to corrupt Eleanor and recruit her to his cause When Eleanor accidentally finds out than she needed or wanted to know about the mysterious UIETUS organisation she's got no real option but to get involved and work with Calvin The uestion is who will corrupt whom? Can Calvin 'turn' Eleanor before her inherent 'goodness' does him in?The book is set in Tanzania and Kenya with occasional forays off to other parts of the world but the African 'angle' is fascinating I have a friend currently working in West Africa for of all the crazy and unlikely organisations the Tony Blair Faith Foundation after spending a year with VSO In under 2 years she's already pretty burned out by the African aid 'circus' so I can only imagine how long timers like Eleanor Calvin and Wallace could lose their grasp of reality Shriver is fantastic at describing the Kenyan city where much of the action takes place In one passage she describes a building where Calvin has an office as having “the rounded contours preferred by architects in the mid sixties with a penchant for designing office buildings to resemble giant toiletries” before going on to say that this looks like a 22 storey tampon holder When I read that I knew EXACTLY what she meant and exactly how such a building would lookI know there are many people who think that natural and man made disasters in Africa and elsewhere are just mother nature redressing the balance and who think wishy washy bleeding heart liberals small 'l' like myself are just mugs for supporting disaster relief so I came at this book from a stance that made me naturally anti everything Calvin stood for As he develops his devious plans to annihilate two billion people even I couldn't help but get caught up in what was going on Would AIDS do the job for Calvin and UIETUS or would their secret high tech lab come up with a fiendishly demonic virus or plague to achieve their mission? Calvin should surely have had a bald head and a white Persian cat rather than no sex drive and a tame monkeyThere's a lot to admire about Shriver's book – the creativity for a start the wonderfully villainous baddie and the juxtaposing of the culling of animals with the problem of human overpopulation Shriver is never scared to make her 'heroines' hard to like or her plot lines difficult to swallow and of the three of her books that I've read poor weak love lorn Eleanor is probably the least detestable leading lady despite all her failings Shriver explains in an afterword in my Harper edition that the book lost her the support of her American publisher and cost her a year living in Nairobi and no book had been harder to write I can believe all those things If you think of the vitriol she received for 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' from people who accuse her of hating children just because her character guns down dozens of his classmates you can only imagine how the publishers thought a book proposing to kill off 2 billion people would go down She tells us a large part of the hard copy run was unsold and went to pulpA few things just didn't work for me though Chief amongst these was the repeated appearances of Panga Calvin's dead ex lover who brings a ridiculous sense that the author has lost touch with what's otherwise a harshly realistic look at what a man with a mission and good funding might be able to do Calvin books an extra seat on the plane and room in a hotel for Panga so she won't have to 'sit on the wing' I would happily have seen Shriver's editor take a big thick red pen through all the passages referring to Panga's ghost The woman herself is perhaps needed as an explanation for Calvin's coldness but her ghost is just a silly detour that doesn't add credibility to the story The mysterious research centre and the evil cabal of baddies gathered around Calvin are very 1970's James Bond in flavour but if you're going to buy into the idea of mass murder on an unprecedented scale why shouldn't you accept some colourful characters? Even Calvin shows a tiny glimmer or humanity – he's asked the scientists to please come up with something that won't kill Jews because they've already had a bad enough time in the Second World WarI didn't like or enjoy 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' I loved 'The Post Birthday World' but I think 'Game Control has just crept ahead of TPBW on my Shriver list I've a couple at home to try – I think I'll be bumping them up the pile after reading this one

  9. says:

    Like many other readers I was drawn to this book because I was so caught up in Shriver's writing after reading Kevin However this book is different in so many ways The premise is interesting population control experts create a grisly method of bringing down worldwide population numbers Morality becomes relative etc etc That's what made me pick it up in the first placeWhere I got lost was in the extreme research detail that Shriver uses at times I was listening to the audiobook and I found that there were 10 minute periods where I could just zone out and not miss a thing about the plot The characters are hard to love though I suppose this was the case with Kevin too in many waysbut at least they were DOING interesting thingsIn the end I was just left with a feeling ofthat's it? I don't know it was a bit unsatisfying I agree with other reviewers that the ghost subplot is odd it's one thing to be haunted by your past it's another thing to have a full on walk through walls ghost as a semi important characterI will say for any listening to the audio CD that the narrator Merlington is fantastic she really helped keep me listening But overall if you're looking for something on par with Shriver's other work this doesn't uite make the grade

  10. says:

    Game Control is the fifth novel by American author Lionel Shriver This novel is set in Kenya in the early 1990s and concerns demographics and AIDs The main characters are a vengeful misanthrope Calvin Piper and a guilty do gooder Eleanor Merritt Eleanor works for a Family Planning agency and encounters the charismatic Piper at various Aid conferences Despite his provocative and controversial opinions about population control eg allow infant mortality to increase by stopping vaccination Eleanor falls in love with Piper But Piper declares himself incapable of love since the death of his black African mercenary girlfriend Panga who haunts his cottage still offering commentary and opinion In his genial despair Piper’s sparring partner on population matters is the morbidly euphoric Wallace Threadgill a continuing source of optimistic clippings from papers and magazines When Eleanor accidentally stumbles on Piper’s solution to the population explosion her love for Piper is tested against her commitment to humanity In this blackly comic offering Shriver deftly presents two sides of the population control debate while illustrating the power of statistics Shriver’s extensive research is apparent in every paragraph Brilliant