The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver

The Mandibles Lionel ShriverSet in near-future America, ‘The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047’ by Lionel Shriver follows four generations of an American family who had been waiting to inherit the fortune of 97-year-old patriarch Douglas Mandible. However, a total fiscal meltdown in the form of a cyber attack has wiped out the economy along with the Mandible’s wealth and all communications including the Internet. After the “Great Renunciation” when the President of the United States defaults on the country’s massive debt obligations, the Mandibles are all forced to live together under one roof in order to survive.

In her previous novels, Shriver has confronted controversial and topical issues such as high school shootings in ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ and obesity in Big Brother and explored the possibilities of “what if” scenarios in The Post-Birthday World. Her latest book published in the UK this week successfully brings both of these elements together. Shriver has clearly done a painstaking amount of research into the economic crisis and the speculative elements of the story are both satirical and chilling, especially as thirteen years in the future is close enough for most aspects of the world to still be recognisable.

There are some notable developments though. The Mexican economy is booming, Ed Balls is the British Prime Minister, newspapers no longer exist and by 2047, all citizens of working age are microchipped and cash has been abolished. However, analysing the potential likelihood of the specific details in Shriver’s imagined future would be slightly missing the point here. As Lowell explains to his teenage daughter Savannah: “Plots set in the future are about what people fear in the present. They’re not about the future at all. The future is just the ultimate monster in the closet, the great unknown.”

Shriver incorporates a lot of technical detail about the economic crisis and there are parts in the first half where there is far too much dinner party conversation between characters about the finer points of capital controls and gold reserves. The story becomes much more engaging and accessible when Shriver starts to explore the family dynamics in the Mandible household more deeply, particularly in the second part of the story set in 2047 when the family leave New York. Carter’s sister Nollie is the most interesting character and must surely be Shriver’s alter ego: an expat author born in the same year whose name is an anagram of Shriver’s adopted forename (something I only spotted after I was more than half way through the book).

Like Shriver’s other recent novels, the ending of ‘The Mandibles’ is unnerving but it didn’t have the same impact of surprise as her previous work – the genre of speculative fiction doesn’t really allow for this so much in a world where anything is possible. Darkly humorous and frighteningly plausible in equal measure, ‘The Manidbles’ proves that Shriver is still one of the sharpest and most versatile authors writing today.

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19 Comments

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19 responses to “The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver

  1. I have We Need To Talk About Kevin on my TBR, it’s been there for a while as I found the movie completely shattering and I think the book will make even more impeession. Reading your review I think I may start my adventure with Shriver from The Mandibles rather than Kevin.

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  2. I have seen We Need to Talk about Kevin, but never got around reading the book, any or for that matter, by Lionel Shiver. Then I saw my feedly update your blog and read this review, and remembered that I have yet to experience her.

    So I went over to the library, and well, they didn’t have We Need to Talk about Kevin or this one (because it’s brand new, I guess), but they did seem to have quite a few others. I did read your reviews of Big Brother and The Post-Birthday World, so while trying to decide which one to take, I randomly picked up The Post-Birthday World.

    I’ve heard that you either love or hate her work… so yeah, the anticipation is real! Can’t wait to go home and start reading.

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  3. The Reading Bug

    Thanks for the preview – looks interesting. Is there any significance in the unusual family name?

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  4. Your review has reminded me that I absolutely must try reading Shriver one day. I watched We Need to Talk About Kevin and while Tilda Swinton did excellently, I thought the novel would be even more chilling.

    Is The Mandibles a good place to start?

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  5. When I set my 2016-book-buying-ban I didn’t take into account a new book by Shriver. Absolutely cursing myself!

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  6. I’ve not read any of Shriver’s work but this sounds like an interesting (and a little frightening) view of the future.

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  7. Really looking forward to this one, as I thoroughly enjoyed We a Need To Talk About Kevin and another of hers (the name escapes me!). It sounds like a fascinating read.

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  8. This looks excellent – I’m definitely adding it to my TBR. I sometimes struggle to find books set in the near-future, and books set hundreds of years beyond in the post-apocolypse are feeling a bit over-done these days. Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Pingback: The Man Booker Prize 2016 Longlist: Predictions, Possibilities and Preferences | A Little Blog of Books

  10. Pingback: The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2017: Longlist Predictions | A Little Blog of Books

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