Game Control

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Eleanor Merritt, a do-gooding American family-planning worker, was drawn to Kenya to improve the lot of the poor. Unnervingly, she finds herself falling in love with the beguiling Calvin Piper despite, or perhaps because of, his misanthropic theories about population control and the future of the human race. Surely, Calvin whispers seductively in Eleanor’s ear, if the poor are a responsibility they are also an imposition.

Set against the vivid backdrop of shambolic modern-day ...

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Eleanor Merritt, a do-gooding American family-planning worker, was drawn to Kenya to improve the lot of the poor. Unnervingly, she finds herself falling in love with the beguiling Calvin Piper despite, or perhaps because of, his misanthropic theories about population control and the future of the human race. Surely, Calvin whispers seductively in Eleanor’s ear, if the poor are a responsibility they are also an imposition.

Set against the vivid backdrop of shambolic modern-day Africa – a continent now primarily populated with wildlife of the two-legged sort – Lionel Shriver’s Game Control is a wry, grimly comic tale of bad ideas and good intentions. With a deft, droll touch, Shriver highlights the hypocrisy of lofty intellectuals who would “save” humanity but who don’t like people.

“Shriver steers her plot through some truly outrageous arguments. But her work is all the more valuable for its flagrant defiance of political correctness...The controversy that consumes [the story] is compelling.” – The Times (London)

“A sardonic, sexy, salutary novel about, of all things, population control.” – New Scientist

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Shriver (We Need To Talk About Kevin) sheds light on many complicated issues in this novel centering on Calvin Piper, a demographer/statistician/crackpot living with a green monkey and the ghost of his dead girlfriend. Versatile actress/narrator Laural Merlington (Acts of Malice) executes the American, English, and African accents and inflections with ease. Recommended for public and academic library collections. [Audio clip available through]
—Joanna M. Burkhardt

The New Statesman
“One of the best works of fiction about Africa I’ve ever read.”
The New Scientist
“Lionel Shriver has written a sardonic, sexy, salutary novel about, of all things, population control.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781423360858
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio
  • Publication date: 10/29/2008
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 9 CDs, 10 hours
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.10 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Lionel  Shriver
Lionel Shriver's books include The Post-Birthday World, Game Control, and the Orange Prize-winning We Need to Talk About Kevin. She writes frequently for the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and The Independent. She lives in London.


At age seven, Lionel Shriver decided she would be a writer. In 1987, she made good on her promise with The Female of the Species, a debut novel that received admiring reviews. Shriver's five subsequent novels were also well-received; but it was her seventh, 2003's We Need to Talk About Kevin, that turned her into a household name.

Beautiful and deeply disturbing, ...Kevin unfolds as a series of letters written by a distraught mother to her absent husband about their son, a malevolent bad seed who has embarked on a Columbine-style killing spree. Interestingly enough, when Shriver presented the book proposal to her agent, it was rejected out of hand. She shopped the novel around on her own, and eight months later it was picked up by a smaller publishing company. The novel went on to win the 2005 Orange Prize, a UK-based award for female authors of any nationality writing in English.

A graduate of Columbia University, Shriver is also a respected journalist whose features, op-eds, and reviews have appeared in such publications as The Guardian, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, and the Economist. Since her breakthrough book, she has continued to produce bestselling fiction and gimlet-eyed journalism in equal measure.

Good To Know

In our interview, Shriver shared some interesting anecdotes about herself with us:

"I am not as nice as I look."

"I am an extremely good cook -- if inclined to lace every dish from cucumber canapés to ice cream with such a malice of fresh chilies that nobody but I can eat it."

"I am a pedant. I insist that people pronounce ‘flaccid' as ‘flaksid,' which is dictionary-correct but defies onomatopoeic instinct and annoys one and all. I never let people get away with using ‘enervated‘ to mean ‘energized,‘ when the word means without energy, thank you very much. Not only am I, apparently, the last remaining American citizen who knows the difference between 'like' and ‘as,‘ but I freely alienate everyone in my surround by interrupting, ‘You mean, as I said.' Or, 'You mean, you gave it to whom,' or ‘You mean, that's just between you and me. ' I am a lone champion of the accusative case, and so –- obviously -- have no friends."

"Whenever I mention that, say, I run an eight-and-a half-mile course around Prospect Park in Brooklyn, or a nine-mile course in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens in London, I inevitably invite either: ‘Huh! I only run five! Who does she think she is? I bet she's slow. Or I bet she's lying.' Or: ‘Hah! What a slacker. That's nothing. I run marathons in under two and a half hours!' So let's just leave it that I do not do this stuff for ‘fun,' since anyone who tells you they get ‘high' on running is definitely lying. Rather, if I did not force myself to trudge about on occasion, I would spend all day poking at my keyboard, popping dried gooseberries, and in short order weigh 300 pounds. In which event I would no longer fit through the study door, and I do not especially wish to type hunched over the computer on the hall carpet."

"My tennis game is deplorable."

"Most people think I'm working on my new novel, but I'm really spending most of 2004 getting up the courage to finally dye my hair."

"I read every article I can find that commends the nutritional benefits of red wine -- since if they're right, I will live to 110."

"Though raised by Aldai Stevenson Democrats, I have a violent, retrograde right-wing streak that alarms and horrifies my acquaintances in New York. And I have been told more than once that I am ‘extreme.' "

"As I run down the list of my preferences, I like dark roast coffee, dark sesame oil, dark chocolate, dark-meat chicken, even dark chili beans -- a pattern emerges that, while it may not put me on the outer edges of human experience, does exude a faint whiff of the unsavory."

"Twelve years in Northern Ireland have left a peculiar residual warp in my accent. House = hyse; shower = shar; now = nye. An Ulster accent bears little relation to the mincing Dublin brogue Americans are more familiar with, and these aberrations are often misinterpreted as holdovers from my North Carolinian childhood (I left Raleigh at 15). Because this handful of souvenir vowels is one of the only things I took away with me from Belfast -- a town that I both love and hate, and loved and hated me, in equal measure -- my wonky pronunciation is a point of pride (or, if you will, vanity), and when my ‘Hye nye bryne cye' ( = ‘how now brown cow') is mistaken for a bog-standard southern American drawl I get mad."

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    1. Hometown:
      Brooklyn, New York, and London, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 18, 1957
    2. Place of Birth:
      Gastonia, North Carolina
    1. Education:
      B.A., Barnard College of Columbia University, 1978; M.F.A. in Fiction Writing, Columbia University, 1982
    2. Website:

First Chapter

Game Control
A Novel

Chapter One

The Curse of the Uninvited

'Not on the list,' the askari declared grandly.

'Perhaps. . .' the other voice oiled, deceptively polite, 'one of the organizers... Dr Kendrick?' Exaggerated patience made a mockery of good manners.

With the bad luck that would characterize the next five days, Aaron Spring was just passing the entranceway. Swell. The last thing any population conference needed was Calvin Piper.

The Director bustled brusquely to the door. 'It's quite all right,' he assured the African with a sticky smile. 'This is Dr Piper. Is there some problem with his registration?'

'This man is not on my list,' the askari insisted.

'There must have been some oversight.' Spring scanned the clipboard. 'Let's enter him in, so this doesn't happen again.'

The Kikuyu glared. 'Not with that animal.'

Reluctantly, the Director forced himself to look up. Wonderful. A green monkey was gooning on Calvin's shoulder, teeth bared. Spring slipped the askari twenty shillings. That was not even a dollar, but the price of this visit was just beginning.

The interloper looked interestedly around the foyer, as if pointing out that he had not been here for some time and things might have changed.

'So good to see you.' Spring shook his predecessor's limp hand.

'Is it?'

'You're just in time to catch the opening reception. What happened with your registration, man?'

'Not a thing. What registration?'

'There must have been some mistake.'

'Not a-tall. I wasn't invited.'

Spring winced. Piper had a slight British accent, though his mother was American and he'd spent years in DC. The nattiness of Piper's tidy sentences made Spring's voice sound twangy and crass.

The Director led his ward through the sterile lobby. The Kenyatta International Conference Centre was spacious but lacked flair—wooden slatted with the odd acute angle whose determination to seem modern had guaranteed that the architecture would date in a matter of months. Kenyans were proud of the building, the way, Spring reflected, they were so reliably delighted by anything Western, anything they didn't make. All the world's enlightened élite seemed enthralled with African culture except the Africans themselves, who would trade quaint thatch for condos at the drop of a hat.

'Couldn't you at least have left the monkey home?' he appealed.

'Come, Maithus is a good prop, don't you think? Like Margaret Meade's stick.'

God rest her soul, Spring had always abhorred Meade's silly stick. 'Just like it.'

Spring hurried ahead. Having assumed the leadership of USAID's Population Division six long, fatiguing years before, surely by now he might be spared the pawing deference the Director Emeritus still, confound the man, inspired in him. He reminded himself that much of his own work that five years had been repairing the damage Piper had done to the reputation of population assistance worldwide. And by now Spring was well weary of his own staff's nostalgic stories of Piper's offensive mouthing off to African presidents. Why, you would never guess from their fond reminiscences that many of those same staff members had ratted on this glorified game-show host at their first opportunity. All right, Spring was aware he wasn't colourful—he did not travel with a green monkey, he did not gratuitously insult statesmen, he did not detest the very people he was employed to assist, and his pockets did not spill black, red and yellow condoms every time he reached for his handkerchief.

Behind his back Spring vilified Piper, but perhaps to compensate for going all gooey face to face. Here was a character whose politics, having veered so far left they had ended on the far right instead, Spring deplored as uncompassionate and irresponsible. Spring aspired to despise Piper, but he would never get that far. He would only be free to dislike the urbane, unruffleable, horribly wry has-been once sure that Piper adored and respected him first—that is, never.

And Piper made him feel fat. Piper was the older although he didn't look it, and was surely one of those careless types who never gave a thought to what they ate, while Spring jogged four joyless miles a day, and had given up ice-cream.

'You ruined that Kuke's day, you know,' Calvin was commenting about the askari. 'He loved barring my way. You get a lot of wazungu rolling their eyes about Africans and bureaucracy, how they revel in its petty power—but how they don't understand it, wielding stamps and forms like children playing office. I've come to believe they understand bureaucracy perfectly well. After all, most petty power isn't petty at all, is it? These tiny people can stick you back on your plane, impound your whisky, cut off your electricity and keep you out of conferences you so desperately wish to attend. Bureaucracy is a weapon. And there is no pleasure greater than turning artillery on just the people who taught you to use it.'

'Calvin,' implored the Director, 'do keep your theories quiet this week. I'm off for some wine.'

Leaving the man toothpicking pineapple to his ill-tempered monkey, Spring felt sheepish for having let the rogue inside. He was haunted by childhood fairy-tales in which the aggrieved, uninvited relative arrives at the christening anyway, to curse the child.

It was a mistake to exhort Calvin to keep his mouth shut. Had Spring encouraged enthusiastic participation in the interchange of controversial ideas, Piper might have loitered listlessly in the back, thumbing abstracts. Instead Calvin perched with his pet in the front row of a session on infant mortality, making just the kind of scandal sure to see its way into the Nairobi papers the next day.

'Why are we still trying to reduce infant mortality,' Piper inquired, 'when it is precisely our drastic reduction of the death rate that created uncontrolled population growth in the first place? Why not leave it alone? Why not even let it go up a little?' He did not say 'a lot', but might as well have.

Game Control
A Novel
. Copyright © by Lionel Shriver. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 22, 2013

    Game Control is the fifth novel by American author, Lionel Shriv

    Game Control is the fifth novel by American author, Lionel Shriver. This novel is set in Kenya in the early 1990s and concerns demographics and AIDs. The main characters are a vengeful misanthrope, Calvin Piper, and a guilty do-gooder, Eleanor Merritt. Eleanor works for a Family Planning agency and encounters the charismatic Piper at various Aid conferences. Despite his provocative and controversial opinions about population control (eg allow infant mortality to increase by stopping vaccination), Eleanor falls in love with Piper. But Piper declares himself incapable of love since the death of his black African mercenary girlfriend, Panga (who haunts his cottage still, offering commentary and opinion).  In his genial despair, Piper’s sparring partner on population matters is the morbidly euphoric Wallace Threadgill, a continuing source of optimistic clippings from papers and magazines. When Eleanor accidentally stumbles on Piper’s solution to the population explosion, her love for Piper is tested against her commitment to humanity. In this blackly comic offering, Shriver deftly presents two sides of the population control debate, while illustrating the power of statistics. Shriver’s extensive research is apparent in every paragraph. Brilliant.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 20, 2011

    Interesting in part

    this book is uneven in execution

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2008

    A very haunting tale

    I read this book about six months ago and can not get it out of my head. If any book can make you think about the consequences of our 'good deeds', this is it ... and thank goodness it is fiction. Shriver has the touch for unblinking honesty that I admired so in 'We need to talk about Kevin'and four other books she wrote. This book has truely changed my life view so much so that it is next months read in our book club. This story isn't all dire and has some real life funny/awkward moments that almost anyone can relate to.

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    Posted February 3, 2013

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    Posted May 28, 2009

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    Posted February 16, 2009

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    Posted August 24, 2010

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