Lionel Shriver, the author of Orange Prize-winning 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' translated into 25 languages and recently made into a film, has tackled a subject you'd imagine to be totally depressing in 'So Much For That', published by Harper.
Peopled by several characters whose lives are blighted by desperate illness and the equally crippling cost of healthcare in the USA, it nonetheless has the ability to make you laugh aloud in the midst of dark times.
You can't help but feel for Shep Knacker, a good man who always does the right thing by family and friends, while saving for an eventual escape from the daily grind. 'The Afterlife' that he will have on an African island one day is derided by those who think it's all make believe, that he will never go.
But Shep, who has sold his successful handyman business to a former employee that you would like to push under a truck and then foolishly stayed on in a reversal of roles is about to fly off to his chosen destination. Pemba is an island of blue seas, white sands and the smell of cloves. He has bought tickets for himself, his tricksy wife Glynis and his taciturn, computer addict, teenage son, Zach..
But he hasn't reckoned for Glynis laying claim to his life and his health insurance. And what follows is a a tough old trek through cancer and chemo, while you warm to Glynis the more she cold shoulders the mealy-mouthed visitors who want her to behave well.
Neither Glynis nor Flicka, the daughter of Glynis and Shep's best friends, the fabulously furious Jackson and ever stoical Carol, behave well. Flicka suffering from a degenerative disease, drools and ensnarls like a sick animal. She doesn't threaten eventual suicide as much as promise it, while Glynis is intent on punishing the world and especially Shep for this rare cancer on which she has declared crazily expensive war.
And there we have it. What is a life worth? Is a hundred thousand dollars a proper price tag for some experimental drug that might bring a couple more weeks of abject misery?
When Jackson loses his fury and Shep's retired minister father loses his faith in God there'll be truly bloody consequences but ultimately a bloody good solution to the weight of the world.
Read Shriver's 'So Much for That', it takes on that last taboo – death - with a humour and humanity that will have a lasting impact.