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Forever fit, forever beautiful? The novel The Last Shall Be First by Lionel Shriver


In her new novel, Lionel Shriver tells the story of a married couple who desperately cling to earlier ideals and their own youth - and are overtaken by a woken zeitgeist.

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Author Shriver: Bite each other to your heart's content

Photo: David Levenson/Getty Images

Almost twenty years ago, Lionel Shriver landed a bestseller with We Need to Talk About Kevin, a novel about a boy who runs amok in a high school, which was later made into a film starring Tilda Swinton.

Since then, the author has established herself primarily in the USA.

Her new novel is a satire about the clash between generations and lifestyles in western affluent society: Serenata and Remington are both over sixty and have been married for decades.

While sport always left him cold, she was once not only a trendsetter who discovered hip bands before anyone else, but also a doer, who clocked up the miles every day, defined her body and self and always felt above the lazy.

But now the cartilage in the knee is gone, bone rubs against bone.

Arthrosis becomes torturous: "Pain made me lonely, because those who didn't feel it didn't believe in it, and those who felt it didn't really believe in anything else." At the same time, which also hurts, Serenata's husband suddenly wants to train for a marathon.

The fitness trainer »Bambi«, a woman in her late thirties with a Barbie figure and a symbol of the good-humored meritocracy, has him in her clutches.

Forever young, forever fit, forever beautiful?

You can try it.

Bambi knows the desires of older men like Remington and cashes in on them.

So she brings Remington into a club of lunatics who have made extreme sports a religion and whose destiny is to compete in triathlon events.

Shriver turns everyone against each other

The couple is drifting apart – and is also overtaken by a woken zeitgeist that no longer knows what to do with the two of them: Remington has been sent into early retirement because of a dispute with his new superior, who is turning everything inside out in the direction of »anti-discrimination«.

Serenata falls out of favor as a white voice actress for mimicking black dialects.

She used to set trends in left-wing subcultures herself, wore tattoos when most skins were still bare.

"Cultural appropriation" and "gender-neutral toilets" were not yet an issue.

Now it is she and her husband who are on the wrong side.


Lionel Shriver

The last will be the first

Translation: Nicholas Hansen

Publisher: Piper

Number of pages: 432

Translation: Nicholas Hansen

Publisher: Piper

Number of pages: 432

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Old vs young, ugly vs beautiful, healthy vs sick, and husband vs wife, Shriver pits everyone against each other and picks up every debate that circulates in the affluent world.

That makes »The Last Will Be the First« as entertaining as it is biting, mainly because the author deliberately keeps the novel stylistically sober.

This creates the impression of a team of characters, none of whom are suitable as sympathizers, but who like to bite each other with heart's content.

The story reaches one of its many high points when Shriver sends the estranged couple's son into the running as a nihilistic total refuser.

Blessed with gloomy beauty, he consumes women "like Kleenex", gives a damn about sports, eats fast food, deals - and yet flashes surprising wisdom: "You were - what, for forty-five years?

– a hot bride,” he says to his mother.

"Let go."

Source: spiegel

All life articles on 2022-07-07

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