When the End of Life Seems Endless


By Lionel Shriver

When we meet them of their 50s, the Wilkinsons, Kay and Cyril, a married couple, she a nurse and he a health care provider in Britain’s National Health Service, she a blowzy free spirit who likes her wine, he an earnest socialist intoxicated by his personal advantage, are contemplating whether or not they need to kill themselves. Not instantly, however in due time. They have their causes.

Kay’s father, a sufferer of dementia, has simply expired after a protracted decline. For Kay, her father’s “infinite dotage” was a demoralizing ordeal that grated on her senses — its smells, its messes — and appeared to take years off her personal life. For Cyril, a person who tends to overthink issues in a cold utilitarian approach and is at all times alert to the pursuits of the collective, the drawn-out loss of life of his father-in-law was proof that aged individuals linger too lengthy on earth, consuming medical and social sources which might be finest dedicated to youthful people.

And so, over drinks one night time, Cyril proposes a plan that he hopes will save his spouse and him — to not point out the state — quite a lot of trouble. When they flip 80 (or slightly when Kay turns 80, as a result of she is a number of months youthful than he) they’ll down an overdose of sleeping drugs that Cyril has already stashed within the fridge, 30 years forward of time. Kay is skeptical of this plan at first, however after noticing sooner or later that her mom has began to develop forgetful, she tells her husband: “I’m all in.”

With the winding of this fatalistic clock, which requires only some pages and transpires within the type of chipper banter harking back to a Noël Coward comedy, we discover ourselves within the realm of the high-concept. We are studying a novel of points, a thesis novel regarding euthanasia and medical rationing. It’s not ripped from the headlines, maybe, however neatly clipped from them, its method quippy, satirical and arch, its characters able to op-ed-style rants on the questions at hand, and on many others too. Current affairs such because the Brexit vote are the couple’s abiding curiosity, much more than their very own kids (or so it appears). For instance, right here is Cyril on the pandemic, which occurs to strike within the novel because the Wilkinsons are approaching their long-contemplated final act:

“I’ve studied the data. That weedy, doom-mongering computer modeler at Imperial College London who predicted 510,000 British deaths without draconian intervention — he has his head up his backside. The ponce may have Boris in his thrall, but Neil Ferguson has overestimated the lethality of the virus by at least an order of magnitude.”

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