Lionel Shriver – On a Fictional Family Facing Reality at the Swindon Festival of Literature 2017

It has been said that Lionel Shriver’s latest novel – ‘The Mandibles: A Family 2029 – 2047’ – is nothing if not prophetic.  It projected the phenomenon of ‘Fake News’, predicted a Trump-style rise to Presidential power and, in the book, the wall between Mexico and the US has not only been built but the Mexican people did actually fund it…

…Although the wall has been built to keep America out, not to keep Mexicans in.

‘The Mandibles’ is set in a near-future America where the country’s economy has collapsed and the dollar is under economic siege from a new international currency.

We see this through the eyes of one family, the Mandibles, who before the collapse had been waiting, expectantly, for the death of their 97 year old patriarch to furnish a sizable inheritance upon them.

Now, with the devaluation of the dollar reducing this potential fortune to a pittance, the family have to amend their expectations and lifestyles to fit the new realities of their lives.

We live in uncertain times and this seems to have triggered an appetite for dystopic fiction.  Books such as Orwell’s ‘1984’, Sinclair Lewis’ ‘It Can’t Happen Here’ and Margaret Atwell’s “The Handmaiden’s Tale” have crept to the top of Amazon’s Bestseller List since Trump’s election last November.  Lionel Shriver opines that this is because books are a “safe space” where readers can explore their fears away from the harsh reality.

The book started from an idle moment where Shriver tried to calculate how long she was likely to live into this century.  Based on the knowledge that one of her grandparents lived into their late 90’s she was aghast when she worked out that she might reasonably expect to survive until about 2052, barring accidents (Shriver is turning 60 this year).

A number of experts have predicted that the middle of this century may see a perfect storm of population explosion, water and energy shortages, climate-related catastrophes and economic upheavals that could tip human civilisation into chaos.  The thought that she might live to see these potential cataclysms filled Shriver with horror and these horrors shaped this book.

Shriver is convinced that an economic collapse like the one portrayed in ‘The Mandibles’ is inevitable.  She believes that he only thing that would be different in reality is that a total collapse of the American economy would inevitably drag the rest of the global economy into the abyss with it.  And she really didn’t want to write about that.  The idea was too enormous.

“The world’s economic system is based on a lie,” Shriver observed.  There’s nowhere near enough real money in circulation to ever pay off the growing debt.  But maybe that doesn’t matter.  Shriver doesn’t believe that money can ever buy the things that we really need and want.  We should aspire to those things that can’t be acquired with cold and counterfeit currency.

Maybe that’s a crumb of comfort.

In the words of Nick Ross off Crimewatch: “Don’t have nightmares; sleep well.”

Lionel Shriver’s books – including ‘The Mandibles: A Family 2029 – 2047’, ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ and ‘The Post-Birthday World’– are available from all good book retailers.

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