Yet another of Lionel Shriver's novels is back in print after the incredible success of one of my favourite books, 'We Need To Talk About Kevin'. 'Double Fault', whilst not as socially dramatic as 'Kevin', lies again in the domestic, and focuses on the fierce competition in a marriage. 'Double Fault' focuses on tennis, but, arguably, Shriver could have picked any sport - the issue here is power and authority.
Willy Novinsky is a born tennis star - she has wanted nothing else since the age of five, and has shunned all else in her life, save the beautiful game. Apart from an on/off sexual relationship with her coach, Max, she has never had a relationship, until Eric Oberdorff shows up. He discovered tennis at the age of 18, and fiercely ambitious, like Willy. As they plan their takeover and rise to professional fame (there is however a sense that Willy will never quite get there from the off - in tennis terms, 23 is 'ancient'), their rankings get closer to one another and Willy becomes the underdog. The stakes at hand are between two types of people - the first, born devoted to something and ruthlessly trying to get there. The second, the prodigiously gifted, who (taken to extremes in the form of Eric) can put their hand to anything at any time, and succeed and thus success is not important. The novel's crux rests on whether these two can ever get along, particularly in a marriage, and it seems that any reader would associate with one of the two archetypes.
Whilst the book focuses heavily on tennis, using terminology and tennis metaphor, it is rarely too much to handle. When the terms get too specific, it seemed to have the effect of showing just how far tennis is merely a game, and a triviality in the wider scheme of the world. The intrinsic link between tennis games and marriage in the novel gives this terminology another edge aswell - it exposes the game-like power struggle of a marriage. The book is as much about the death of love, and the internalised struggles of a competitive marriage. First published in 1997, there is a sense (and Shriver makes this quite clear) that the novel can be used as a metaphor for women in the workplace - they cannot be undermined, and can be just as strong as men. Despite this coming from a male, it seems that Shriver has the uncommon knack for being able to describe, to anyone, exactly what goes on inside a woman's mind.
Despite small flaws in pacing and the fact that Eric would have left Eva long before the marriage came to a head, the book is, as with most Shriver texts, a complex and full dissection of the domestic. The personal effects of sheer and unthinking determination, and the effects of power and superiority of talent are all interestingly evoked in an enjoyable, untaxing read, set in a storm of passion and rivalry that was never going to end well.