The Motion of the Body Through Space by Lionel Shriver

‘I’ve decided to run a marathon.’

Meet Serenata Terpsichore (‘rhymes with chicory’) and her husband Remington Alabaster, who live in upstate New York. Serenata is 60 years old, with a captivating voice and ruined knees. Serenata uses her voice (she is particularly good at accents) as a voiceover artist and as an audiobook narrator. Her knees are the consequence of a lifetime of keeping fit, of a firm belief that 10-mile runs are the key to both longevity and good health.

Remington, on the other hand, slightly older and forced into early retirement from the New York State Department of Transport, has always been sedentary. But now he decides he wants to run a marathon.

Picture the contrast: a woman whose lifetime commitment to exercise has left her with pain and the need for joint replacements, and a sedentary man who decides to take up training for a marathon. Serenata struggles with her pain while Remington spends a lot of time (and money) training to run a marathon. And he does run a marathon (eventually and slowly) just to be convinced by a young personal trainer named Bambi that running 26.2 miles is nothing: he needs to train for triathlons.

And as Remington trains their lives are taken over. Serenata learns that being good at accents is no longer desirable, and her knee replacement cannot be postponed for ever. But this novel is not just about the cult and folly of obsessive training, it’s also about relationships and cultural change, usually delivered with acidulous wit. One of my favourite lines:

‘Nancee was a victim of a nomenclatural fad that celebrated an inability to spell as a manifestation of originality.’

Serenata’s work dries up: being able to mimic accents and speech patterns is now a liability. We also learn why Remington was retired early. Diversity has consequences.

Will Remington survive his new fitness obsession and complete the MettleMan triathlon? Can Serenata come to terms with reduced fitness? Can their marriage survive? What does the future hold?

I enjoyed this novel: the send up of the fitness cult; the consequences of political correctness; and the patterns that we humans slavishly adopt when we think we have found the answers to whatever existential crisis we’ve found (or confected).

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins Australia /The Borough Press for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith