An all-too-plausible novel about economic collapse


The Mandibles: A Family, 2029–2047 | Lionel Shriver

Update 2020 – The Mandibles: A Family is a dystopian novel about an economic crash. Given what’s happening now it seems even more [potentially] prophetic and plausible than when I read it in 2017.

Shriver is one of the best writers I know and I love her books. They are challenging but highly readable. Intelligent and brutally observed. She’s not afraid to tackle big issues head on.

I might have hesitated before buying The Mandibles, because you don’t go into any Shriver book lightly. But I couldn’t wait to see how such a good writer would handle a dystopia theme. Little did I suspect that a serious novel about economics could be such a page-turner. It’s about money, but not [just] about the numbers. It’s also about how money drives human behavior. There’s bitterness, jealousy and miserliness, and a whole host of other unpleasantness, as well as sacrifice and generosity.

In 2029, overnight, on the international currency exchange, the dollar value plummets; it is replaced by a new global currency, the “bancor.” In retaliation, the president declares that America will default on its loans and the government prints money to cover its bills. Rapid inflation means people’s savings become almost worthless.

The Mandibles have been counting on a large inheritance. When it disappears, they are deeply shocked out of their complacency and struggle to survive. Each family member takes the setback in their own way. Avery whines about the cost of olive oil. Florence takes in family members with nowhere else to go. Her teenage son, Willing, is the only one who understands economics and what is really happening.

When I read it, I couldn’t stop raving about this book and recommending it to anyone who would listen. Yes, there’s a lot about economics — perhaps more than some readers (myself included) can easily get their head around — but if anything that just contributes to the plausibility of the whole thing. Everybody is pretty damn stunned.

I read a lot of dystopia novels but this one was the scariest yet. The very real dystopia of Covid-19 is just in its second wave, and who knows what economic impact it could have if we don’t get it under control. Reading The Mandibles might give you some hints.


Find The Mandibles on Amazon and at other bookstores.


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