Here’s a little story: I met Lionel Shriver and we had a chat about belonging.
The American author and journalist, who lives in London most of the time now, was in Brisbane promoting her latest book Big Brother.
She walked out towards the audience in practical wedges, toned cyclist calves and a simple sheath dress. She looks taller than her five feet two inches and a bit more approachable in person than in her press photos. A bit.
Three things I learned about Lionel Shriver:
- She does push ups in front of the television.
- She eats one main meal a day.
- She is now one year older than her older brother.
Shriver’s brother Greg died four years ago from complications related to morbid obesity. Her latest novel is about fat, family and figuring it all out. The two are not related except that the one gave her compassion and experience and prompted her to write the other. The book is dedicated ”To Greg — who was unfailingly, improbably glad for anything good that ever happened to me, and in the face of whose drastic, fantastic, astonishing life any fiction pales.’’
I buy Big Brother and stand in line for the signing. I’m starting to think of these as my 20 or 30 dollar belonging quotes, depending on the book. Big Brother sounded witty and thought-provoking. Tonight I’ve brought along a former-journalist friend who’s got great short hand. I cannot miss the opportunity to talk with Shriver in person.
Shriver takes my book with my name on the yellow sticky note.
I ask Shriver, who spends her time between London and Brooklyn, New York, about whether she belongs in the UK.
”It’s not an easy answer,’’ she says.
She takes time to think. I enjoy the sound of cogitation and ignore the silent crackle of impatience in the book-wielding line behind us.
”I never lose consciousness that I am American there [in the UK] but I’m comfortable in my discomfort. I’m at ease and used to it,’’ she says.Shriver spends more time in the UK now than in the US, she says, adding that she’s been a foreigner in Europe for years.”It’s nice to go back to the US and feel that I don’t have to justify my existence there,’’ she says.
Shriver lived in Belfast for 12 years and has also lived in Bangkok and Nairobi.
”You come to a point when you feel more comfortable being a foreigner than at so-called home,’’ she says.
And that point, I figured out long ago, is the point of no return.