Lionel Shriver’s Double Fault is a story of a couple who are trying to make a mark in the field of international tennis. While Willy has been playing with a racket since five, Eric, picks it up at the ripe age of eighteen. Against her coach’s advice, Willy goes on to marry Eric and there starts a rivalry between the couple which is not all that healthy. This is the story of Willy who has to come to terms with her partner beating her at tennis and to continue loving his arch rival.
While We need to talk about Kevin, with its dose of uncommon words, was like reading an Oxford dictionary, the author saves us from that trouble in Double Fault. Was that intentional? The book flows smoothly, the language is straight. There is a distinct change in the writing style in these two books.
Shriver handles the story well. As the couple go through their courtship, wedding and its tensions, the reader feels the joy and pain. Though the story is in third person, it could as well be written in first person from Willy’s point of view. This is the same trick the author played in Kevin. The reader never got to see the ‘real’ world, everything was through Eva’s looking glass. Even in this book, we don’t really know the neutral version of incidents. Since everything is through Willy’s eyes, the reader never gets to know the ‘real’ Eric.
Just like in Kevin, Shriver tries to find an answer for yet another common phenomenon – rivalry among spouses. And just like how Shriver did not conclude Kevin with a definitive answer, the beauty of Double Fault is that it ends without any concluding answer. The book need not have been about tennis at all – it could as well have been about a couple who fought over who was better at handling kids and it would have been equally interesting.
The book is not about who was wrong – Willy or Eric. It is about a marriage which started turning sour. It is this generalization that makes the book interesting. Shriver does not waste words in justifying anyone’s actions or blaming anybody, she just narrates the story and the reader is left to read his own version of it. At the end of it, this is not just about marriage – this could well be applied to any relationship that exists.
Shriver understands life and humans and their nature to such an extent that she could probably be the happiest person living. With her novel, Shriver drives home one point – if a relationship turns sour, it’s not just one person’s fault – it’s Double Fault. The book couldn’t have had a better title.