The figurative language of Lionel Shriver…

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I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about metaphors from Lionel Shriver….

American writer Lionel Shriver (pictured above) had her break-out novel in 2003. Titled We Need to Talk about Kevin it tells the story of a fictional high school massacre and is written from the perspective of the teenage killer’s mother.

While I thought the book was a clever idea, I didn’t much like it. I had similar feelings for her more recent novel, The Post-Birthday World. Interestingly, the book  follows a ‘parallel-universe’ structure. Chapter 1 begins with a common narrative. After that,  it splits, with two chapter 2s, and chapter 3s etc. In each arc or story line the same characters make  different choices when facing the same situation.

The book was conceptually interesting, but I didn’t find the plot to be highly rewarding. That said, I thought Shriver made superb use of figurative language. Here are my favourite examples:

  • Thus when Irina woke that Saturday she was startled to discover that her smug self-possession had cracked like an egg.
  • Dark leather couches lined his private parlor like pews, and Irina sipped gravely from her snifter as if from a communion chalice.
  • Some people found the infinite iterations of home life tedious. For Irina, its rhythms were musical; the shriek of the [coffee] grinder was the day’s opening fanfare. She welcomed a refrain to which she could almost hum along: the gurgle and choke of the stove-top espresso pot, the roar and strangle of the steamer wand as she whipped the milk to froth,
  • [When arguing] he might as well have been thwapping a rubber ball relentlessly against a squash court in the expectation of knocking down the wall.
  • Lawrence was popular with the media as the sole Cassandra in a chorus of Pollyannas.
  • In such abundance, a meal is less a feast than a mugging. The company staggered back to the parlor as if bashed on the head.
  • In turn, Ramsey slid an arm around Jude’s shoulder, which he massaged with his left hand as if kneading a dry, resistant mass of pasta dough.
  • Irina slipped into the train, and miraculously got a seat. It was only six-thirty pm for an eight pm engagement she had allowed too much time. Though there was always the Northern Line, which had a way of vacuuming the fat from your schedule like liposuction.
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