The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver

Lionel Shriver’s latest novel articulates a plausible but depressing near-future that plays on the fears of the middle class and upwardly mobile. The Mandibles: 2029–2047 traces the lives of three generations who lose everything and become economic refugees in a changing world. In this futuristic dystopia everything is wrecked. No one reads or buys fiction, the American currency has been devalued, and cabbages cost $30.

The equipoise required to believably convey the future is hard to maintain. Some, like Philip K. Dick or William Gibson, are renowned for it. For Shriver, the articulation of impending doom verges on caricature at times, and the futuristic language is a little jarring. Terms like ‘mexdreck’, ‘boomerpoop’ and ‘splug’ feel clumsy, and have a dated quality, against the backdrop of what appears to be sound economic theory articulating the western world’s demise.

Shriver excels at taking the pulse of contemporary fears and extrapolating a good read out of it, but The Mandibles, with its future of financial failure, can feel little far-fetched. It’s hard to form connections with characters, to fully believe the hardship, and to therefore enjoy the family’s struggle with the Orwellian state that emerges. An interesting read for its dystopian vision of America, and with enough humour and personality to sustain it, but not a groundbreaking novel.

Anaya Latter