cover image The Female of the Species

The Female of the Species

Lionel Shriver. Farrar Straus Giroux, $17.95 (405pp) ISBN 978-0-374-15442-4

Structured in a circular way, beginning and ending on Gray Kaiser's 60th birthday, this novel gathers momentum as it goes. Gray, a preeminent anthropologist living in Boston, famous for her studies of matriarchal societies in Africa, is a majestic, independent woman. In her late middle age, she falls in love for the first time with a cruel, much younger man, Raphael Sarasola, who is obviously using her for her money and connections. Errol McEchern, the long-time associate who has pined for Gray for years, subjugating his own needs to be with her, narrates the drama while, simultaneously, being deeply involved in it. What he does not witness, he invents; he relates Gray's first expedition to Africa, where she met Charles Corgie, Raphael's predecessor, as well as the story of Raphael's adolescence living in an abandoned factory in North Adams. As Gray transforms before Errol's eyes from a vibrant, brilliant scholar to a helpless, lovestruck victim, Errol begins to get glimmers of insight into his own failings and inability to extricate himself from the destructive triangle. The quality and vividness of Errol's imagination is a tribute to Shriver's own; the pieces fall neatly and compellingly into place. This is a confident first novel and a consuming one. (April)