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


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


Then her seventh novel hit the big time.


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


Lionel Shriver's latest book is called The Mandibles,


and it's set during a financial crisis in America


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


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


as the dollar collapses, inflation soars and the economy


Lionel Shriver, you wrote The Mandibles in 2015,


and the picture you paint of America is pretty bleak.


Revisiting it now as it comes out in paperback,


One of the striking things about revisiting this book


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


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


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


because what happened in the book has not happened yet.


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


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


But certainly interest in dystopias, in dystopian fiction,


has picked up enormously, and I think the entire landscape


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


In that what we consider possible has changed.


Donald Trump was initially not going to get elected.


The idea of his being president was farcical.


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


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


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


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


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


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


the changes between now and then quite modest.


I did insert things - there was a major cyber


catastrophe in 2024, which I think is highly likely.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


And the supermarket becomes a strangely political place.


Which it is, rather, because it has to do


And what people regard as necessary to their primitive survival varies


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


classes would consider having to live without olive oil


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


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


You explore America's collapse through this one family,


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


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


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


civil structures break down, and relationships


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


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


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


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


There is one character in this book, Nollie,


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


from the United States for several decades,


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


Why did you want to insert yourself in the novel?


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


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


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


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


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


in hell of looking any better as a consequence!


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


But it was also, and there was a slight political


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


economically anyway, demonises the baby boomer


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


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


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


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


and then you had this an enormous success with We Need


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


It was also turned down by 20 different agents


It certainly wasn't artistic fervour.


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


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


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


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


mindful not to complain, because all my professional life,


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


I wanted, I had to keep my mouth shut.


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


a scene or a passage, and sometimes I think,


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


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


I just look for something that I have a strong


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


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


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


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