Lionel Shriver Meet the Author


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Lionel Shriver

Rebecca Jones talks to award-winning writer Lionel Shriver about her latest novel The Mandibles.


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For much of her career, Lionel Shriver scribbled

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in obscurity, and those are her words, not mine.

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Then her seventh novel hit the big time.

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We Need To Talk About Kevin won the Orange Prize for Fiction

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Lionel Shriver's latest book is called The Mandibles,

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and it's set during a financial crisis in America

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At its heart are four generations of a once wealthy family who must

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deal with the loss of their fortune and then learn to survive

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as the dollar collapses, inflation soars and the economy

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Lionel Shriver, you wrote The Mandibles in 2015,

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and the picture you paint of America is pretty bleak.

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Revisiting it now as it comes out in paperback,

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One of the striking things about revisiting this book

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after the release of the hardback in the spring of 2016 is obviously

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we now have a new president, and not the president we expected.

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So there's a feeling of not quite being overtaken by events,

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because what happened in the book has not happened yet.

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In fact, quite to the contrary, the stock market is going

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through the roof, though I'm not convinced it will stay there.

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But certainly interest in dystopias, in dystopian fiction,

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has picked up enormously, and I think the entire landscape

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of reality has changed, if that's not being a little overdramatic.

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In that what we consider possible has changed.

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Donald Trump was initially not going to get elected.

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The idea of his being president was farcical.

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As you say, it is a dystopian novel, set in 2029 predominantly,

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But this isn't a future of lizards running down 5th Ave

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It's a world in many ways that is very recognisable to us.

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In fact, I kept the technological innovation to a minimum.

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There is a little bit, because of course things do move on,

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but I didn't want the reader's focus to be on gadgets, so I tried to keep

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the changes between now and then quite modest.

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I did insert things - there was a major cyber

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catastrophe in 2024, which I think is highly likely.

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But I wanted you to be able to walk into this book

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And we see what happens to one particular family, the Mandibles,

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and how what they take for granted and perhaps what many of us take

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You can't get hold of olive oil and wine.

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And by the end of the book, it's $40.

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I wanted to go on that nitty-gritty household level.

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So there's more than one scene in this book that takes

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And the supermarket becomes a strangely political place.

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Which it is, rather, because it has to do

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And what people regard as necessary to their primitive survival varies

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according to income level, so that most middle to upper middle

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classes would consider having to live without olive oil

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I mean, one of the things that people start hoarding and therefore

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And one that you examine in the book when we have a shortage of it.

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You explore America's collapse through this one family,

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and it's not the first time you've explored big issues

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Well, I think it's a good route in to an issue,

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and one of the things that happens when an economy breaks down is that

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civil structures break down, and relationships

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As a nation, you can stop functioning, as a city

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or a neighbourhood you can stop functioning, and as a family

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And you put enough stresses on people, and I do design the plot

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so that little by little, everyone ends up in the same house.

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There is one character in this book, Nollie,

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who is a bestselling writer, like you, who has lived away

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from the United States for several decades,

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like you, and indeed her name is an anagram of Lionel.

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Why did you want to insert yourself in the novel?

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I'd written enough books by then, I figured I'd earned

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I used all the truly atrocious working titles of my real books

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for the titles of her books, and she's an exercise fanatic,

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and annoys everyone by doing star jumps on an upper floor,

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Although by this time she's 72 and really doesn't have a hope

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in hell of looking any better as a consequence!

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So it was partly just to take the mickey out of myself.

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But it was also, and there was a slight political

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intention in that this book, I have to confess, in some ways,

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economically anyway, demonises the baby boomer

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And so I was putting myself in the book partly to admit, well,

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I'm the kind of person that younger generations are going to have

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to carry, and so it was a kind of mea culpa.

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You'd been writing novels and getting published and reviewed,

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and then you had this an enormous success with We Need

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Is it true, by the way, that that book was turned

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It was also turned down by 20 different agents

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It certainly wasn't artistic fervour.

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And then, as I say, it was this enormous success.

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Is that only a blessing, or does it bring its own pressures with it?

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Well, for a while, it did oblige me to revisit a book that I felt

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And that got a little bit trying, although I always had to be

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mindful not to complain, because all my professional life,

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I had been waiting for a book to hit it big, so once I got what I claimed

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I wanted, I had to keep my mouth shut.

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Every once in a while I have to go back to it and read

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a scene or a passage, and sometimes I think,

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You tackle some pretty big subjects in your books, including this one.

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And you've written about the health care system in America and obesity,

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I just look for something that I have a strong

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And I'm not necessarily obliged in my own book to pick something

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But I'm just looking for something that I have a strong

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Lionel Shriver, you always give us plenty to talk about.

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The weekend has brought a mix of weather. On Saturday some of us saw

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