Wednesday, June 29, 2016

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

29 June 2016

It's a long time since I read Lionel Shriver's stunning novel 'We need to talk about Kevin'. Writing here about it in August 2006 I said “I found it completely compelling – very clever and well-written – a gripping and emotional ride that made me feel like I had been holding my breath throughout – and made me burst into tears after finishing the final page – brilliant!” So my expectations were high in approaching Lionel Shriver's new novel 'The Mandibles' (which I read as an unabridged audio book, narrated by George Newbern). 'The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047' explores the economic crises of recent years through an inventive fantasy that follows the lives of a wealthy American family through a dystopian future in which the dollar crashes resulting in the unravelling of civilisation and the rule of law across the USA. Shriver has lots of fun imagining Mexico imposing border controls to stop US citizens fleeing South and Americans providing cheap labour to the new Chinese superpower. But the author's extensive research is rather blatantly displayed. This is a novel of ideas in which characters who are desperate for food and other essential supplies seem happy to spend most of their time having long intellectual conversations about economic theory and the role of cash in society. 'The Mandibles' often feels like one of George Bernard Shaw's more didactic plays, with far too many dinner party scenes of unrealistically eloquent expository debate. Strangely, for a story whose events span the breakdown of Western civilisation, there doesn't seem to be enough plot: the dramatic incidents tend to happen 'off-stage' (even a scene where the family is robbed at gunpoint descends into a theoretical discussion with the gunman). 'The Mandibles' is an interesting exploration of economic theory but ultimately a somewhat stilted novel.



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