Thursday, April 16, 2009

Game Control

Game Control by Lionel Shriver was originally published in 1994 but the first paperback edition in the USA was published in 2007. My paperback copy has 277 pages. This is a novel about demography and population growth that is told with the help of two memorable characters who are aid workers in Africa, specifically Eleanor, who is in family planning, and Calvin, who was previously the leader of USAID's population division. The two are polar opposites in personality but maybe not quite so opposite when it comes to - secretly or openly - blaming the poor for their own plight. They begin to speculate if the world would be better if all the poor people were gone. Shriver is a intelligent, skillful writer but I know that this book will be appreciated much more by fans of her writing. Recommended, highly for fans

Synopsis from cover:
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 imposition.

Set against the vivid backdrop of shambolic 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. With a deft, droll touch, Shriver highlights the hypocrisy of lofty intellectuals who would "save" humanity but who don't like people.

" 'Not on the list,' the askari declared grandly." opening sentence

"Having assumed the leadership of USAID's Population Division six long, fatiguing years before, surely by now he might be spared the pawing deference the Director Emeritus still, confound the man, inspired in him. He reminded himself that much of his own work that five years had been repairing the damage Piper had done to the reputation of population assistance worldwide. pg. 2

"Along with the encrusted, sun-scorched backpackers who lay knackered on curbs, Eleanor wondered how the tourists could bear their own cliche', though there was surely some trite niche into which she herself fitted all too neatly. The well-meaning aid worker on a junket." pg. 5

"She could hardly remember being a shrew; not because she was gracious but because she was a coward. Eleanor vented her temper exclusively on objects - pens that wouldn't write, cars that wouldn't start, the telephone-cum-doorstops that littered any Third World posting. The more peaceable her relations with people, the more the inanimate teemed with malevolence." pg. 8

"Because the holocaust of the population explosion is a myth. That we are all dropping into a fetid cesspool is a myth. Life on earth, historically speaking, has done nothing but improve. And the profusion of our species is not a horror but a triumph....There is no crisis of 'carrying capacity' - since the Second World War, the species has only been better fed. Per capita calorie production continues to rise. Incidence of famine over the last few hundred years has plummeted. Arable land is on the increase. Pollution levels are declining. Resources are getting cheaper. The only over-population I uncovered was in organizations like the one I worked for, which were a scandal." pg. 52

"Sitting at an angle with her cigarette coiling from an extended arm, she spread a calf on her other knee as if posed perpetually for a shutter she had failed to hear click twenty years ago. Such miracles of taxidermy might have cautioned Eleanor to age with more grace, but she herself had never felt dazzling, and perhaps this was the compensation: that in later years, at least she would not delude herself she had retained powers she never thought she wielded in the first place." pg. 58

"In Dar es Salaam, I lived for two years without a mirror. It's queer, not seeing your own reflection. You become like anyone else you haven't met for a long time - you forget what you look like. Though there's something right about that. The all-looking-out. I've wondered if you were ever meant to look into your own eyes." pg. 67

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