Book of the Month: The Mandibles

The Mandibles

After tackling teen violence (We Need to Talk About Kevin) and obesity (Big Brother), Lionel Shriver turns her skilled touch to the subject of economic collapse with The Mandibles – a fascinating, believable and entertaining glimpse into the decline of the world's most powerful nation

It is 2029 and the world is just recovering from the Stone Age which saw the collapse of the World Wide Web. America's soaring national debt has grown to the point of no return. A new international currency, the Bancor, has been introduced; forcing the dollar into meltdown. The Government lead by Latino President Esteban has confiscated the nations' gold, food prices have rocketed and jobs are disappearing. Against this backdrop, The Mandibles, a sprawling wealthy family, realise their long-awaited inheritance has become worthless. Destitute and with no foreseeable income on the horizon, the family are forced to move in together. We watch as each member of the family comes to terms with their new circumstances and grapples to survive in a country where it has become illegal to shower for more than a couple of minutes and a cabbage will set you back $30.

The novel handles a host of complex themes and ideas, but this never gets in the way of the plot which becomes increasingly gripping as the characters develop. It is a chilling and cautionary tale that feels uncomfortably close to the bone, but Shriver's droll humour and discerning eye make it highly entertaining. Elaborate financial jargon is interspersed with a more playful look at the future; there's talk of Ed Balls' government, the new music craze is beastRap (which comprises of birdcalls, lion roars and barking) and the Mexicans are building a wall to keep US immigrants from entering the country.

In an interview, Shriver says: “The greatest joy of dystopian fiction is that it's make-believe. We can experiment with disaster imaginatively, close the book, then mix that martini. Perhaps we're cheered by visions of a future in comparison to which the present is sunny. Right now, darkly as the horizon glowers? Maybe we don't have it so bad”. Perhaps this is one of the reasons this novel is such a satisfying read. Indeed, Lionel Shriver's twelfth novel proves she still reigns as one of the literature's most perceptive social commentators.

About the author

A widely published journalist, Lionel Shriver is the author of twelve novels, including the New York Times bestsellers So Much for That (a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award and the Wellcome Trust Book Prize) and The Post-Birthday World (Entertainment Weekly's 2007 Book of the Year).  Winner of the 2005 Orange Prize, the international bestseller We Need to Talk About Kevin was adapted for the big screen by Lynne Ramsay in 2011.  Lionel Shriver won the BBC National Short Story Award in 2014.


Lionel Shriver will be joining us to discuss the book during a webchat on Wednesday 3 May.


We have 50 copies of The Mandibles to give away. If you'd like to be allocated a copy and agree to join the discussion thread and webchat apply by filling in the form below. The giveaway closes at midday on Monday 27 March 2017.