20 November 2019

Mandibles

Now living in England, Lionel Shriver is a gifted writer. She adopted her curious first name in the late sixties when she was a rebellious teenager in North Carolina. How could she be a tomboy with a name like Margaret?

I have now read four of Lionel Shriver's sixteen novels - finishing the last one yesterday afternoon. It was a five hundred page tome titled  "The Mandibles: A Family, 2029–2047". It is a profoundly frightening portrait of how quickly the agreed rules of society can fall apart without money to oil the wheels. 

It focuses upon a single family in our not too distant future. Once comfortable subscribers to the old American Dream, The Mandibles find themselves in threatening new world in which the economy of the USA  is in meltdown. The dollar becomes a worthless anachronism as other nations climb the ladder. Amusingly, even Mexico overtakes The States and they build a wall to keep out desperate immigrants from north of the border!

The American government becomes a vindictive organisation, suppressing its citizens while observing them like Big Brother in George Orwell's "1984" . As society crumbles, it is almost impossible for members of the Mandible family to experience the feeling of  freedom  any more. Life is all about survival now. As the writer says, “Real poverty is about doing what you have to do as opposed to what you want.”

Lionel Shriver had clearly researched the language and principles of modern economics in some depth and she employed this knowledge to improve the believability of her vision of a degraded and almost hopeless near future. However, some of the sidetracks into economics were out of my comfort zone and I struggled with them.

Nonetheless, this was an eerily convincing picture of a possible future world - just round the next bend.  But there were comedy moments too and some of the writing was consciously tongue-in-cheek. Ultimately, there is a fairly happy ending as the surviving members of the Mandible clan find sanctuary in the breakaway USN - United States of Nevada.
Lionel Shriver

28 comments:

  1. It sounds as though it would be too much of an uncomfortable read for me. I would have nightmares worrying about it actually coming to pass.

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    1. Best stick to Mills & Boon JayCee!

      (Only kidding...!)

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  2. I've never heard of her until your post. She sure is a new name to me.

    Every week...more than once a week, actually...I read the reviews of new books that have, or are about to hit the shelves...but I can't recall ever seeing her name.

    I'll have to keep my eye out for it now...as long as I remember to put it back in again....I really need both my eyes in their rightful place.

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    1. Her breakthrough novel was "We Need to Talk About Kevin". Have you heard of that one?

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    2. Which was made into a film. So nil point for poor Lee. Still, depends where we live of whom we hear of.

      U

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    3. Yes, Yorkie...I have heard of "We need to Talk About Kevin"...and I have heard of the movie starring Tilda Swinton. I've not seen the movie, but no doubt will catch up with it one of these days, even though its been out for quite a while.

      So poor Lee gets a nil point for what reason? That the name didn't ring a bell in poor Lee's brain at that particular time? Oh! Dear! Poor Lee! Whatever will become of her?

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    4. Never fear, "poor Lee" will win $659,502.54 on the Saturday Gold Lotto and will purchase a mango-coloured Ferrari in order to speed away into the sunset singing "Bat Out Of Hell".

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    5. Sounds like a good plan, Yorkie!! Not only am I "poor Lee"...now I'm a "bat"! I guess I am an old bat...no point disputing that fact!!! :)

      I tried to win the $40million Powerball here last night but a fellow in North Queensland won it...and good luck to him, I say! You have to be in it, to win it! So I shall not give up trying!

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  3. Your review reminds me of "Into the Forest" by Jean Hegland, a book I can recommend. There, too, civilisation as we know it begins an unstoppable downwards slide. Two teenaged sisters find themselves all alone in their parents' house on a clearing in the woods. It takes them a long time to understand that things will never return to what they considered normality. Eventually, they take an important decision...

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    1. You have teased me! That certainly sounds like a novel I would enjoy reading.

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  4. I watched a programme called 'Reggie in China' last night and it was a similar thing in that it was about how China is leading the way in technology in particular watching the citizens. If that is the future then I shall be please to make my exit.
    Your book could be very near the truth YP.
    Briony
    x

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    1. We imagine that progress will be to something better but perhaps we are heading to something worse.

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  5. I'm too busy living in The Now at the moment to wander into the discomfiture of a dystopian future.

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    1. When western economies collapse some of us will seek sanctuary in The Outer Hebrides. In advance I should like to reserve your garage.

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  6. Never heard of her! I'll be on the lookout though.

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    1. I am surprised about that but happy that I pointed you in her direction.

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  7. I read that book a couple of years ago and loved it. I had no idea Lionel wasn't her given name!

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    1. I remember you referred to this novel in the summer of 2016.

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  8. I read "We Need to Talk About Kevin" many years ago and it was riveting. I've looked at a couple of her books since then but they didn't appeal to me, but this one sounds like it will - I'll be looking for it. Thanks for the heads up, YP.

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    1. It is a kind of science fiction but disturbingly close by.

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  9. Lionel is indeed an odd, or at least unusual, name for a woman. I dimly remember a Lionel someone of a religious connotation back in the days when I still listened to BBC Radio 4. These days I prefer peace, quiet and silence.

    2047 "in the near future"? How comforting. I'll be nearly, if not already, dead by then.

    U

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    1. Perhaps there will be a different future from the one that Lionel Shriver painted so convincingly. A future of milk and honey and inflatable unicorns.

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  10. I've heard the name but didn't realise she was a she! I'm a voracious reader, but if I've read any of her books they haven't registered on my consciousness. I'm not a great fan of this type of literature - "1984" was enough for me. Give me a good murder mystery any day!
    Thankfully I'll be long gone too, by 2047!

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    1. Normally, I like writing that challenges and surprises me. There is great variety in Lionel Shriver's subjects.

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  11. This does sound interesting but maybe a little too close to what could become a reality. Like JayCee, I could have nightmares from this book. The current political scene as it is in the US is frightening enough but already there are cameras on every street and in every building and parking lot. The middle class is shrinking quickly as we turn into a nation of haves and have nots. It is easy to see where she could have gotten her ideas for this book.

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    1. I am sure that Lionel Shriver's imagination was stimulated by real events and the state of her home country today. It is very close to home.

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  12. Sounds interesting to me. I will have to look for this author.

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  13. It sounds frighteningly possible when you look at the politics of today.
    For some reason I have been reading a lot of WW2 books recently.
    Following Judith Kerr's death I reread her When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit series and then Stephen Matthews' book The Day The Nazis Came . I had not realised how many British people were deported from the Channel Islands to concentration camps. It's a very positive book that seeks to give credit to the individual Germans who tried to help them in the Biberach camp at great risk to themselves.
    I love the name Lionel Shriver chose for her family. Images of being chewed up and spat out spring to mind.

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