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The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver

The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver


Lionel Shriver has always used her fiction to explore “sociopolitical issues”, said Hannah Rosefield in the New Statesman. Previous novels have dealt with mass shootings (We Need to Talk About Kevin), health insurance and obesity. In The Mandibles, she envisages a near future of economic meltdown. It’s 2029, and the US government has defaulted on its debt; there’s hyperinflation; citizens are required to “hand over” any gold they own. All of which is a big shock to the once-rich Mandible family, now unable to afford extra-virgin olive oil and forced to forgo daily showers. The futuristic setting gives Shriver’s inventiveness “full rein”; there’s an “impressive thoroughness” to her vision.

Unfortunately, the “mechanics” of Shriver’s imagined future come at the cost of “human drama”, said Claire Lowdon in The Sunday Times. Much of the explaining is done in speech, resulting in “tedious” dinner-table scenes. And when she switches to prose, the writing is over-elaborate. This is little more than a “vehicle” for its “clever” ideas; “a driverless car with the satnav set to State of the Nation”.

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