If you are going to read Lionel Shriver’s latest novel, brace yourself. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. So Much for That is depressing, disturbing, didactic and dismally true. She pulls no punches about health problems and the cost of health treatments in the U.S.
Other book reviewers have emphasised the financial cost of health care as being the main theme of this novel. I disagree.
The true theme of this novel is whether it’s worth prolonging life for the terminally ill when the treatment itself will make the patient feel even worse.
There’s no doubt that Glynis Knacker is dying. She has terminal cancer. But because there are treatments available which may or may not prolong life for a short time, her husband feels compelled by the medical establishment to
go along with the relentless treatment. All this time the doctors use euphemistic terminology to maintain the delusion that there is a cure.
Glynis’s husband, Shep, feels unable to question the medical profession. He is a nice guy and according to Shriver, nice guys are what keep doctors in business. Shep won’t question the doctor. He’ll keep on paying as long as his health insurance supports it. Once the money is gone, then he’ll be confronted by the doctor’s accusation that he obviously doesn’t care about his wife. So why not take out a loan for her sake?
All this, of course, without revealing that there is no hope of recovery. How grossly manipulative is the medical profession which depends on the self-sacrifice and false hopes of patients and their loved ones!
On the other hand, of course, miracles do happen and sometimes terminal diseases go into remission. Not very often, however. And certainly not often enough to warrant the torment of chemo which makes prolonged life such a misery.
I have personally known some people lately whose health has been shattered, not by the cancer but by the treatment. There has to be something better than this and until there is perhaps prolonging life at all costs is not worth it, especially if the costs are intolerable. I think that’s what So Much for That is really about. Thus the play on words in the title of the novel.
Some reviewers have found that there is dark humour in this novel. I saw none at all even though I enjoy a good laugh when there is one to be found. Perhaps I just don’t think that there’s anything funny about other people suffering needlessly. And neither does Shriver herself or she would not have ended her novel in that way.