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The Motion of the Body Through Space

by Lionel Shriver

Modern and Contemporary Fiction Relationship Stories Book Club Recommendations Books of the Month Books with reviews by our Reader Review Panel Family Drama Literary Fiction

LoveReading Expert Review of The Motion of the Body Through Space

This entertaining commentary on getting to grips with getting old sees a previously inactive 64-year-old embrace the contemporary cult of fitness with absurd obsessiveness.

“For the last thirty-two years, you’ve not once trotted out for a run around the block. And now you tell me with a straight face that you want to run a marathon.” So begins this scathingly amusing novel that sees 64-year-old Remington - recently forced to retire early after an unsavoury employment tribunal – develop an unhealthy obsession with extreme exercise and his hideously competitive trainer, Bambi.

Remington’s wife, sixty-year-old Serenata has always been a solitary exerciser (“I find large numbers of people doing the same thing in one place a little repulsive”), so the fact that her “husband had joined the mindless lookalikes of the swollen herd” comes as a shock, and an insensitive affront too, given that she was recently compelled to give up a lifetime of running after a diagnosis of osteoarthritis in both knees.

Their spiteful bickering begins immediately, with neither party displaying themselves in a favourable light. Indeed, both characters are largely unlikeable, which makes their sniping all the more entertaining. Remington bemoans accusations of privilege, thus revealing said privilege: “I’m a little tired of being told how ‘privileged’ I am... How as a member of the ‘straight white patriarchy’ I have all the power. I’m supposedly so omnipotent, but I live in fear, less like a man than a mouse.”  

After (eventually) crossing the finish line of his first marathon, Remington signs-up for a gruelling triathlon, with his farcical persistence in spite of serious incidents and injuries making this novel both hilarious and excruciatingly cringe-worthy, albeit with an unexpectedly bittersweet upshot.

Joanne Owen

The Motion of the Body Through Space Synopsis

From the Orange Prize-winning author of We Need to Talk About Kevin

Allergic to group activities of any kind, all her life Serenata has run, swum, and cycled - on her lonesome. But now that she's hit 60, all that physical activity has destroyed her knees. As she contemplates surgery with dread, her previously sedentary husband Remington, recently and ignominiously redundant, chooses this precise moment to discover exercise.

Which should be good for his health, right? Yet as he joins the cult of fitness that seems increasingly to consume the whole of the Western world, her once-modest husband burgeons into an unbearable narcissist. Ignoring all his other obligations in the service of extreme sport, he engages a saucy, taunting personal trainer named Bambi, who treats his wife with contempt. When Remington announces his intention to compete in a legendarily gruelling triathlon, MettleMan, Serenata is sure he's going to end up injured or dead - but the stubbornness of an ageing man in Lycra is not to be underestimated.

The story of an obsession, of a marriage, of a betrayal: The Motion of the Body Through Space is Lionel Shriver at her hilarious, sharp-eyed, audacious best.

About This Edition

ISBN: 9780007560813
Publication date: 15th April 2021
Author: Lionel Shriver
Publisher: The Borough Press an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
Format: Paperback
Pagination: 368 pages
Primary Genre Modern and Contemporary Fiction
Other Genres:
Recommendations:
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The Motion of the Body Through Space Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title.

Enthusiasm or obsession? Contempt or concern? A story of a marriage's reaction to the effects of age on the body.

I like Lionel Shriver’s work and this one particularly sparked my interest as the current craze for triathlons and their like seem to be all over social media. As with all Shriver’s protagonists, you are never quite sure if you are meant to actually like them; she never sugar-coats their darker, more unsympathetic side and in this novel, at least to begin with, you aren’t quite confident as to which camp you are meant to be rooting for - the now incapacitated Serenata or the newly athletic Remington. It’s a measure of Shriver’s skill with words that you are torn between both sides of the argument more than once. Ultimately, I found myself identifying more with Serenata (and I think that was Shriver’s goal).

The novel examines their marriage in detail from Serenata’s perspective. Is it breaking down or merely adjusting to the reversal of their roles vis-à-vis exercise? Remington’s newfound obsession is seen as a threat and a personal insult but is her disdain hypocrisy or a measure of her frustration with her new inability? We see that other modern issues (white privilege, freedom of speech, the idea of manhood under siege) have all contributed to the impasse the couple find themselves in as we look back at different events in their lives. All of which adds up to an incredibly absorbing and thought-provoking story that had me engrossed to the very end.

Suzanne James

Which is more painful, entering an extreme sporting event or living with someone who is entering one? Ms Shriver has once again excelled at portraying the raw emotions of characters pushed to the absolute limit both physically and mentally.

I was so excited to receive a review copy of Ms Shriver’s latest novel; I love her writing style and the way she is seemingly fearless in tackling difficult topics. She has certainly taken on several biggies in this latest tale of that new religion, extreme sport.

Serenata has always been a solitary exerciser but she has pushed her body to the point where her knees are destroyed and she is fearful of how knee replacements may leave her. Her husband, Remington, never really a sportsman has recently lost his job and has decided to challenge himself by running a marathon. Like a lot of people who come late to things, he throws himself into his training regime with gusto. Serenata is less than enthusiastic. In fact, she is downright anti the whole thing. The first event survived, Remington, has caught the bug and has come under the influence of Bambi, a super-fit, super-competitive triathlete who offers to train Remington for the ultra-tough Mettle Man competition.

What follows is not just a mental and physical trial for Remington, his focus on training and Serenata’s antipathy towards the whole project puts the marriage under huge strain. Will he get to the finish line in one piece, will their marriage survive, will Serenata’s knees pack up completely?

My other half has done triathlons in the past so I really felt for both the main characters, Remington and the sheer torture he subjects himself to and Serenata for having to live like a ‘widow’ throughout the training regime. Both characters are selfish in the extreme but still likeable. They have difficult relationships with their children, the daughter being a born-again Christian and the son a possible drug dealer. There is a lot going on in this novel but Shriver paints very clear pictures with her words and I believe has created a very well observed story which would make for a great film.

Annette Woolfson

Exploration of the unexpected changes in relationships and the challenges of ageing well.

Exploration of the unexpected changes in relationships and the challenges of ageing well.

Serenata and Remington have a relationship that excludes others, which extends to their children. This changes when Remington announces he is going to run a marathon. Their once comfortable way of being is shattered as Serenata realises “how heavily their marriage of late had depended on their slender Venn diagram of overlapping habits”.

This is a predictable story without the big revelation of We Need to Talk About Kevin and Big Brother. Despite this, I did enjoy the book. I found myself thinking a lot about the themes. There was a cautious note about obsessive exercise junkies of all ages and the impacts on physical health but the psychological issues behind obsessive exercise and control were touched on lightly – a missed opportunity. There was a parallel with the fanaticism and being part of a ‘family’ experience by Remington with his training and the same with their daughter Valeria and religion. However, both of these are seen from Serenata’s, an outsider’s, perspective.

This is a book, not about the cult of the exercise, but about how we impact on the lives of others without really fully appreciating this and that, when long-standing relationships change, the sense of loss can take us by surprise.

Barbara Gaskell

Lionel Shriver's turn of phrase is an art form in this exploration of obsession, jealously and - ultimately - stoic love.

From the very first line, Lionel Shriver's The Motion of the Body Through Space sets the tone of wry commentary in a well-worn marriage, as the husband declares himself suddenly taken by the idea of fitness. Not just fitness, but endurance - namely, a marathon.

Throughout the novel, our leading lady Serenata wends her way through politics, the desires of her husband, the rise of fitness fanatics, and her own body's demise. We feel her frustration, her incredulity, but also her loyalty. Tested to its limits, very much on a knife-edge, we nevertheless get a sense of the warmth and heart behind this aloof and self-assured woman.

By contrast, husband Remington blusters, puffing his chest with indignation at any possible reason why he shouldn't achieve anything he sets his sights on. He is, of course, a sympathetic character, forced into early retirement and now without his identity and source of pride.

Throughout the unravelling story, the selfishness of both parties is apparent - but equally not surprising nor unrealistic. We're reminded of the fallibility of people - both physically and emotionally - and can instantly relate with the complex relationship borne from years of living and growing together.

Whether you're at the start of a marriage, nearing the end, somewhere in between or on a different path, Shriver's exquisite and unique writing will have you laughing, crying, and cheering the finishers.

Tiffany Chevis

Lionel Shriver has done it again! Ultra fitness freaks, religious zealots, drug pushers and physical decrepitude, Serenata has it all to deal with in this well written and intelligent book.

60 somethings Seranta and Remington Alabaster are both dealing with unwelcome personal events in their lives. She is facing physical decrepitude after a lifetime of self-imposed fitness and he is taking early retirement in a ‘jump before you’re pushed’ scenario.

Remington suddenly decides that, despite no previous interest in physical fitness before, he is going to run a marathon! The book follows his efforts to do so, then push himself even further despite showing no ability, to enter a triathlon. His training group with leader and mentor, the self-obsessed Bambi, pressure each other to push themselves further than they are physically capable and Serenata has to watch as he devotes all his time and energy into getting fitter, while her knees, disintegrating and painful over many years of a brutal fitness regime, await replacement.

Add in a born again Christian daughter and ne’er-do-well son to cope with and the plot is set. Serenata herself is intelligent, insular and honest about her strengths and weaknesses and questions if her dismay at watching her husband embark on increasing his fitness whilst hers is all but gone, is jealousy or genuine concern for his health.

Lionel Shriver has done it again in my opinion. This is another extremely well-written book which critically observes the new craze of ultra fitness, peer pressure and unrealistic expectations with intelligence and subtle humour.

Sue Packer

This is a dry and very witty observation of a long marriage, of ageing, of the need to belong, and of the obsession that drives ordinary people to take on extraordinary fitness challenges.

Serenata has been a runner, cyclist and fitness obsessive all of her life. But just as she hits 60, her knee gives out and she is forced to stop. Her newly-retired husband Remington, who has been as disinterested in fitness as Serenata has been obsessed by it, chooses this moment to announce he is going to run a marathon. Then, when he needs a bigger challenge, he goes beyond an Ironman, to MettleMan. Serenata’s inability to understand or support her husband’s new obsession only serves to drive him away, and further towards his new fitness friends and his beautiful but obnoxious personal trainer.

This is a dry and very witty observation of a long marriage, of ageing, of the need to belong, and of the obsession that drives ordinary people to take on extraordinary fitness challenges. It is also a very funny study of how modern-day political correctness has taken over in the workplace and beyond.

Serenata and Remington find themselves at odds with their adult children, with their employers, with the cult of extreme fitness and most of all, with each other. This is a superb social and observational comedy, I loved it.

Alison Burns

A well-observed and witty commentary on Western Society's vain obsession with fighting ageing by taking up extreme sport in later life and the effect this has on a marriage.

The novel’s main character Serenata is a likeable but politically incorrect married woman. Although never keen on group sport she has always enjoyed solitary running, swimming and cycling, but on reaching 60 discovers this has taken a huge toll on her knees; she must stop running and consider surgery. In direct contrast, her 64-year-old, previously sedentary, husband Remington decides to pick this moment to join a training group and take up running. He trains to run a marathon as a means of giving his life a new purpose, having been forced into retirement for speaking his mind in a world where political correctness overrides freedom of speech.

After running his marathon, Remington gradually becomes obsessed with triathlon training and with his young, glamorous, and highly competitive trainer Bambi! He pushes through pain and injury, treating his training programme as a religious extremist might embrace suffering and sacrifice, both in the hope of redemption. This obsession has a huge effect on his health and marriage: Serenata feels that ‘the man I fell in love with has been kidnapped’. As he makes new friends, Remington and Serenata drift apart and issues of marital jealousy, loneliness and betrayal are all explored with great humour and sensitivity.

I found this book really hard to put down and thoroughly recommend it.

Susan Coleman

Interesting. Thought-provoking. A very interesting tale about an enduring relationship told with humour.

Serenata has been a keep fit enthusiast all her life to the extent that by the time she reaches 62 her knees are wrecked. The frustration and fear she feels at this development in her life, at this time of her life, is exacerbated by an announcement from Remington, her longstanding husband that he is to enter a marathon. This from a man who has never shown the slightest interest in any exercise, ever, and training is to commence immediately!

As Remington hires a Personal Trainer and becomes ever more fanatical about his training the parallels drawn between Extreme Sports and a Religious Cult are very cleverly done.

We expect a lot from this Author and she delivered. The novel is extremely well written. Highly amusing but at times really sad as you see the previously happy marriage falling apart faster than Serenata's body!

I found the story extremely thought-provoking and populated with rich characters both likeable and irritating. 

This is a very interesting take on a story about a relationship.
Highly recommended.

Leisa-Michelle Hodson

It is an acerbic study of everyday people displaying obsessive characteristics and is, unfortunately, totally and depressingly believable.

At just past 60, once exercise obsessive Serenata Terpsichore is facing a knee replacement due to years of chronic overuse, a long term cyclist, runner and follower of basically any solitary sport, she is struggling to come to terms with her diagnosis and the permanent change to her circumstances.

Simultaneously her husband Remington has discovered exercise for the first time in his life after a degrading ending to his past career.

Entering firstly a marathon and then a triathlon, cheered on by the ridiculously named Bambi, his new personal trainer, whose distain from the almost crippled Serenata is transparent, Remington is pushed to his limits.

On the face of it, I wasn’t especially drawn to the subject of this book as the fitness phase has passed me by, however, Lionel’s writing makes for scintillating reading whatever the context.

Her usual overriding misogyny is apparent in the many characters featured, and the overly modern undercurrents, especially in the tidy ending, make for a chillingly current message.

The fascination with fitness and exercise in today’s society, creating an obsessive characteristic in so many people, and which makes some slip into a cult-like status, is explored in the book.

Shriver weaves real religion in as well with the arrival of the protagonist’s daughter, the evangelical Valeria, and her own children, each character resplendent with their own emotional issues.

A long term fan of the author, I personally enjoy reading each of her novels with a dictionary on standby, and with full advance knowledge that in place of using the regular 4 words required she will always use 24, and this book is no different.

It is an acerbic study of everyday people displaying obsessive characteristics and is, unfortunately, totally and depressingly believable.

Natasha Wise

Ageing, marriage, fitness obsessions and an awful lot more....all tackled with Lionel Shriver's shining intelligence and biting wit.

Big fan of Lionel Shriver and her wry, intelligent way of looking at life and this book didn't disappoint. It's a long, hard look at the joys(?) of ageing and of how relationships, in this case, marriage, change over the years. It also has a pop at the current obsession with extreme fitness regimes - topical and told with Shriver's characteristic acerbic wit.

Shriver is of my generation and this really struck a chord, she is brutally honest about the reality of advancing years. She captures perfectly and succinctly what we all seem to be thinking and commenting on and underlines how it hurts when we find it is our views that are now considered outdated and on the wrong side of political correctness - she does rather over-egg the pudding to make her point but does so hilariously. And how many times I identified with what she was saying!
Whilst I'm hoping that my other half doesn't announce he's about to take up training for a triathlon, I wouldn't mind at all turning into a subversive Grandmother like Serenata.

Beautifully observed, scathing and tender all at once, highly recommended indeed.

Jan Payne

Other editions of this book

ISBN: 9780007560813
Publication date: 15/04/2021
Format: Paperback

ISBN: 9780007560783
Publication date: 07/05/2020
Format: Hardback

ISBN: 9780007560790
Publication date: 07/05/2020
Format: Paperback

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About Lionel Shriver

Lionel Shriver's novels include the New York Times bestseller The Post-Birthday World and the international bestseller We Need to Talk About Kevin, which won the 2005 Orange Prize and has now sold over a million copies worldwide. Other books include Double Fault, A Perfectly Good Family, and So Much for That. Lionel’s novels have been translated into twenty-five different languages and. Her journalism has appeared in the Guardian, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. She lives in London.

More About Lionel Shriver

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