Book of the week: The Case of the Married Woman

Antonia Fraser’s biography takes on a life that ‘reads like a Victorian sensation novel’

Caroline Norton

“Anyone looking for a comfort read” should avoid Lionel Shriver’s books, said James Walton in The Times. Her new novel is certainly deeply “discomforting”.

Kay and Cyril are a married couple (a nurse and a doctor) whom we first meet in their 50s. Convinced society is wrongly extending old people’s lives, Cyril persuades Kay to join him in a pact to commit suicide on her 80th birthday. The novel then skips to the appointed day, at which point it reveals itself as a speculative work, serving up “12 alternative scenarios” for what might happen next.

In one of these scenarios, the couple decide against killing themselves, and their “callous, awful children commit them to a ghastly old-age facility”, said Walter Kirn in The New York Times. In another, they freeze their bodies, and awake far in the future, “when people have grown feathers for some reason”. As alternate universe follows alternate universe, “it all goes on a bit”.

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Yes, it’s quite mad, said Alex Preston in the FT. But this “riotous”, “wonderful” satire is certainly “unlike anything else you’ll read”.

Borough Press 266pp £18.99; The Week Bookshop £14.99

Lionel Shriver

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