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Should We Stay or Should We Go

by Lionel Shriver

Modern and Contemporary Fiction Literary Fiction eBooks of the Month

LoveReading Expert Review of Should We Stay or Should We Go

This witty of-the-moment, parallel universe novel explores its overarching theme of ageing alongside current issues, including COVID, Brexit and social care.

Lionel Shriver’s Should We Stay or Should We Go is an of-the-moment novel if ever there was one. With whip-smart dialogue and thought-provoking internal monologues cutting to the core of its characters, it tackles the topic of ageing through a playfully inventive structure involving twelve parallel universes and two principle protagonists who’ve made a suicide pact. Should We Stay or Should We Go boasts a smart concept that’s been cleverly executed - think Life After Life meets Sliding Doors delivered in Shriver’s distinctive style.

After watching her father’s demise during ten years of Alzheimer’s, Kay struggles to cry for him when he dies: “I feel absolutely nothing… I feel as if he’s been dead for years.” Both fifty-something NHS medical professionals, Kay and her husband, Cyril, move to discussing everything from the nature of memory to universal social care. They’ve seen far too many of their patients suffer like Kay’s dad and their discussion leads Cyril to propose they agree to a suicide pact to avoid a similar fate - they will kill themselves on turning eighty. Of course, when that time comes, they must confront their decision. 

Each chapter serves up an alternate ending for the couple, with the likes of the ethics of suicide, cryogenic preservation, and ageing cures explored along the way. By turns amusing, moving and provocative, it examines the biggest of questions through personal detail, and will surely provoke thought as to how readers themselves wish to bow out.

Joanne Owen

Should We Stay or Should We Go Synopsis

The Cassandra of American letters. -New York Times

When her father dies, Kay Wilkinson can't cry. Over ten years, Alzheimer's had steadily eroded this erudite man. Surely one's own father passing should never come as such a relief?

Both healthy and vital medical professionals in their early fifties, Kay and her husband Cyril have seen too many of their elderly NHS patients in similar states of decay. Determined to die with dignity, Cyril makes a modest proposal: they should agree to commit suicide together once they've both turned eighty. When their deal is sealed in 1991, the spouses are blithely looking forward to another three decades together.

But then they turn eighty.

By turns hilarious and touching, playful and grave, Should We Stay or Should We Go portrays twelve parallel universes, each exploring a possible future for Kay and Cyril, from a purgatorial Cuckoo's-Nest-style retirement home to the discovery of a cure for ageing, from cryogenic preservation to the unexpected pleasures of dementia.

Weaving in a host of contemporary issues - Brexit, mass migration, the coronavirus - Lionel Shriver has pulled off a rollicking page-turner in which we never have to mourn deceased characters, because they'll be alive and kicking in the very next chapter.

About This Edition

ISBN: 9780008458553
Publication date: 24th June 2021
Author: Lionel Shriver
Publisher: The Borough Press an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
Format: Hardback
Pagination: 288 pages
Collections: Summer Is Here - Feast Your Eyes on LoveReading's Ever-growing List of Summer Reading Recommendations,
Primary Genre Modern and Contemporary Fiction
Other Genres:
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Should We Stay or Should We Go 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.

Not sure if there are enough superlatives to describe this book! Amazing, clever, humorous and eminently readable will have to do for a start!

Should We Stay or Should We Go is probably the best book I’ve read in the past few years!

Kay and Cyril, a nurse and GP respectively, are 50 somethings, who, after helping care for Kay’s father through his last horrendous years living with dementia, decide that rather than burden their children, and as importantly the NHS with the possibility of having to deal with similar circumstances in their old age, they will commit suicide when Kay is 80 and Cyril is 81. 80 seems to be the optimum age when the best years will be behind them and the only thing left could be pain, disability, degradation and the possibility of dementia and the horrors that entails.

We then read multiple scenarios about what happens when the protagonists reach the age they’ve decided to end their lives. This book is not morbid, mawkish or depressing, quite the opposite in fact with some real ‘laugh out loud’ moments and many interesting things to ponder on.

Ms Shriver’s writing is always so intelligent and thought provoking and I believe her to be one of the very best modern day authors. Thoroughly recommended!

Sue Packer

An ingenious and thought-provoking read with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments.

How do we negotiate our old age which, as one of the novel’s chief protagonists Kay remarks, is ‘bound to be messy, complicated and horribly down to earth’? This is the central premise of a book that I found to be by turns, funny, sad, and in parts frankly horrifying, but always enjoyable.

Kay and her husband Cyril are the central characters who take steps to manage their impending dotage but find themselves buffeted by circumstances well beyond their control. Adopting a ‘Groundhog Day’ type technique the novel presents the reader with an increasingly bizarre series of possible outcomes which keeps us turning the pages to find out what happens next. Topical themes ranging from social care and dementia to the impact of Brexit and Covid-19 are cleverly woven into the narrative, echoing issues and viewpoints that will surely resonate with many of us. Profound questions about how we define quality of life, the impact of illness on relationships and the consequences of choices we make are presented with a mixture of dark humour and compassion. A standout feature is the way the relationship between a long-married couple is portrayed, and the characters of Kay and Cyril are sympathetically drawn with their obvious affection for each other shining through.

Altogether a satisfying, thought-provoking and very entertaining read.

Sue Quinton

A kaleidoscope of emotions ... despair, horror, empathy, hilarity ... this book has it all!

This is an intriguing tale by Lionel Shriver. When a middle aged couple agree to a future suicide pact, the reader is treated to a range of alternative scenarios in which they go ahead with their plans ... or not. Lionel Shriver picks up on many current themes in British society and gives a sensitive portrayal of the dynamics in a longstanding relationship. There are some hilarious moments in the story though the negative scenarios she explores are quite harrowing, and you’d need to think carefully before buying this book for someone as a gift. It’s an interesting read that would be enjoyed by people who liked Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.

Annie Day

I went on a whole journey with this book but ultimately I fell in love with the writing, the story and the characters, and I couldn’t put it down.

I went on a whole journey with this book. If I am honest when I first started this book it I didn’t like it, I wasn’t sure I would be able to finish it but then something big happened and I fell in love with the writing, the story and the characters, and I couldn’t put it down. It starts a bit like a play, a dialogue between two characters, Kay and Cyril, but then the story really opens up, as we enter a story somewhere between Groundhog Day and Sliding Doors. The story touches on so many things, it is in parts funny, sometimes sad, a little bit heartwarming with a big dose of political satire but ultimately it is a brilliant memorable read.

Lynne Packer

A sharp, witty, provocative and acutely observed look at the perils of ageing and how best to deal with them.

Cyril and Kay have just buried Kay’s enervated and irascible father when GP Cyril suggests a way of avoiding their own potential decrepitude. Proposing a suicide pact when they reach eighty, Cyril sees a way of them enjoying the next thirty years without the worries of care homes and burdening their children and the NHS. Although initially disparaging, Kay’s work as a nurse and her own experiences with her parents soon see her change her mind and a solemn pact is reached. To die with dignity. What follows is a series of potential outcomes - including one (or both) changing their minds, over-zealous children making the decision for them, degenerative disease, advances in technology that skip or defer ageing and a pandemic that makes Covid look like a mere blip. As Cyril and Kay experience each of these potential outcomes and parallel universes, the question of preparing for death or leaving it to chance becomes ever more convoluted. Written in Shriver’s usual precise and acutely observed way the book is both funny and poignant. There are plenty of contemporary issues – namely Covid and Brexit – in the mix and although both Kay and Cyril aren’t the easiest characters to warm to by the end of the book there’s a certain respect for their endeavours and endurance. A thought-provoking and highly entertaining look at the perils of ageing and how best to deal with them.

Clare Wilkins

Shriver at her best: amusing, thought-provoking and right there with the subjects preoccupying all our minds at the moment - death, Covid and Brexit.

At first glance, it's a difficult subject to cover in a lighthearted way - although you would never expect Lionel Shriver to shy away from awkward topics - but once you get used to the way each chapter takes a different path the read becomes much easier. The concept is brilliant - what if things happened differently? Some of the alternative futures are far-fetched, some are amusing, others darker, looking at old age's less palatable side but all of them are thought-provoking in their own way. The more I read, the harder it became to put down, wondering where Shriver would take the divergence in realities next. I particularly like the recurring motifs (white van man, the watermark on the ceiling) that seemed to link all the threads. As did the very current themes of Brexit and the pandemic, cleverly woven in to make the novel very of the moment.

I'm at the age when Kay and Cyril made their original decision to end it all at a time of their own choosing and it certainly made me question my own thoughts on aging and what the future holds.

Suzanne James

A great read and such an unusual idea, as is her forte. Recommended

For the first few pages I thought that Lionel had lost her gift but, very few pages in, I was glad to find I was very much mistaken. Old age is coming to us all, whether we like it or not. This explores all the scenarios, some more successful than others.

Sally Bergin

A darkly funny, tragic, political, and personal novel looking at what happens to us in old age, and how much control we have over it.

I was happy to receive a copy of this book from LoveReading as I’ve read and enjoyed previous books by Lionel Shriver. It’s a darkly funny, tragic, political, and personal novel looking at what happens to us in old age, and how much control we have over it. You could say that it’s a blend of the film Sliding Doors and Kate Atkinson’s book Life After Life, as it examines many possible outcomes of the same event with inherent positives and negatives, repeatedly making me think of the truth of the aphorism “We make plans and God laughs”.

I really liked Kay and Cyril and enjoyed learning about the minutiae of their lives. They very much came across as real people that I might know, by turns endearing and irritating, with a very realistic marriage. I wasn’t expecting it to be as funny as it was, but it made me laugh a few times and then feel slightly ashamed of having done so. The humour is very black, just what is needed to make some of subject-matter bearable.

It’s not an easy book by any means as it deals with big subjects, but it’ll make you think about your own views on moving towards old age and death. It stayed with me for a good while after I finished it.

Sue Berwick

Lionel Shriver Press Reviews

'Should We Stay or Should We Go by Lionel Shriver. A married couple decide on a suicide pact to avoid the indignities of old age, in a satire on society's attitudes to ageing that plays with multiple endings' Guardian, 2021 in Books: What to Look Forward to this Year

'Readers will be entranced by Shriver's freewheeling meditation on mortality and human agency' Publishers Weekly

Other editions of this book

ISBN: 9780008458553
Publication date: 24/06/2021
Format: Hardback

ISBN: 9780008458584
Publication date: 10/06/2021
Format: Ebook

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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.

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