BOOK REVIEW / Another modest proposal: Game control - Lionel Shriver: Faber pounds 14.99
Saturday 30 April 1994
Why have we learned to stop worrying and become complacent about the population bomb? Part of the answer is that economic and social liberalism have converged to neutralise the issue. Liberal economics accustoms us to think growth is good per se, and also that more people will mean bigger markets; the liberal consensus argues that population growth - not populations themselves - will slow down as poor people become less so.
Lionel Shriver's novel suggests another part of the reason. It is that we cannot really comprehend strings of zeroes, and we have become inured to images of Third World poverty. When Shriver's heroine Eleanor Merritt, a family planning worker, is confronted by the beggars of Nairobi, it's a familiar scene. Indeed, the inhabitants of most large Western cities nowadays encounter less extreme versions of it on a daily basis.
Enter Calvin Piper, the black sheep of the demographics community, who dismisses the individuals and contemplates the numbers. His business is shaving off some of those zeroes, by whatever means necessary, and he has a Big Idea about those means. Between these two representatives of the stereotypical male and female ways of seeing the problem, there is, inevitably, a spiky chemistry.
It's a scenario with some promise, but although Shriver can spin an imaginative yarn, she is just too pleasant and airy about it. The last thing a modest proposal like Piper's needs is a modest treatment. To believe that Merritt would fall in with Piper's schemes, even conditionally, demands that we both accept the terms of the problem and grasp the horror contained within it. If those requirements were met, we'd be seduced, like Merritt, into thinking the unthinkable, and the potential for a
monstrous comedy could be unleashed. But the tone would need to be closer to DeLillo or Heller than, as it is, to Lodge. The trouble with Game Control is that it's funny, but not appallingly so.
BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital moveTV
Final Top Gear reviewTV
FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets
Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Tunisia hotel attack: Locals form 'human shield' to protect hotel from gunman Seifeddine Rezgui
- 2 Iain Duncan Smith's expenses credit card is suspended after he runs up £1,000 debt to taxpayer
- 3 German ethics council calls for incest between siblings to be legalised by Government
- 4 French woman dies in freak bungee jumping accident
- 5 Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck to divorce and end their 10-year marriage
The moment a Queen's Guard soldier lost it and drew his gun at annoying tourist
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
They are neither a 'state' nor 'Islamic': Why we shouldn't call them Isis, Isil or IS
Tunisia beach attack: How can British Muslims respond to the latest outrages?