Full House Reading Challenge – The Mandibles – Lionel Shriver (Contains Spoilers)

Genre: Dystopia

Narrative Style: Third person, chronological

Rating: 3/5

Published: 2016

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: When every other country in the world changes its currency to the Bancor, the United States finds itself with a problem. When it doesn’t accept the currency, the dollar quickly loses its value and prices start to rise. The Mandibles find their much relied on inheritance disappears and they suddenly are left with nothing. The novel covers their reactions to events from 2029-2047. 

Reading challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – Most recently added to TBR.

This book was a struggle at times. In fact, it took me a month to read it. It is testament to Shriver’s high quality writing that I kept going. She certainly can string a sentence together. That is not the problem with this novel.

Nor is it the idea which I think is a solid one. In fact, given the current economic situation (particularly with Brexit causing so many worries in the UK) some of it seemed a little close to actual reality. There seemed to be dramatic possibilities in the idea of the once privileged losing everything. I always enjoy the rich taking a tumble.

The problem is that nothing really happens. Or it happens off page. An awful lot of  this novel is taken up with dinner party talk – or the equivalent when no one is having dinner parties anymore. In some ways, this is an interesting way of marking the changes in society  – with the way that a simple event changes – but it just isn’t very exciting. There are lots of intellectual debates about what might happen next which would be fine if this were an economic treatise but it’s novel and so it fell a bit flat.

I had some issues with the names in this novel – Willing, Goog, Fifia, Bing. It felt as though Shriver were trying a little hard. And the slang that these young folk used never really rang true and I never got used to it. Maybe that is just a sign of my age but it just sounded false.

When, at last, it feels like things are as bad as they can be, Shriver again doesn’t give  us the details but jumps past it all to a future where things are kind of settled again. The Mandibles are ousted from their house by their neighbours who play on their middle class naivety by pretending their child is ill. Willing, the teenage son, suggests they need to walk to their Uncle’s farm, a whole state away. This, I thought, would make for interesting reading. At last, something terrible was about to happen on the page. But no, this walk and their time on the farm was not described – perhaps because, in actual fact, their surviving this walk would have stretched incredulity to its limits. I felt cheated all the same.

The final chapters are largely taken up with the modern day equivalent of a dinner party where the young folk all sit around and discuss what became of everyone else. Not a very satisfying way of tying up loose ends. Again, there are some clever ideas about the way the world turns out but I felt I was being lectured to rather than being shown events unfolding.

Finally, the ending is a cheat. Nollie, Willing’s ancient aunt has been carefully lugging a box of her old manuscripts around with her from pillow to post. Willing thinks she may be becoming old and senile but, it becomes apparent that their is something precious in the box. Nollie has a large quantity of gold which it just so happens, she can now convert into currency in their new home in the state of Nevada – the one state that has not opted into the new economic rules. So there is a happy ending. Although the last line of the novel suggests that the future might not be exactly perfect, the whole thing ended a bit too nicely. Overall, it was disappointing.

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