Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Mandibles - a realistic view of the future

I am currently reading The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver. The author is best known for her book about a Columbine-style killer, We Need to Talk About Kevin, and for getting into trouble for her politically incorrect speech last year to a Brisbane writer's festival about 'cultural appropriation' (which I discussed here). I think she is one of the best writers on the planet today and her latest work has only confirmed my view.

The Mandibles is set in the future - between 2029 and 2047 - and tells the story of four generations of the eponymous family. You could describe it as a dystopian novel but unlike most other novels of that genre, the dire future it describes is only too realistic and inevitable given the current economic policies of Western governments. The United States has lost its position as the issuer of the world's reserve currency - the huge deficits, borrowing and currency production (i.e. 'quantitative easing') of successive governments have finally come home to roost and the U.S. defaults on its debts. A consortium of international governments - including a Russia still led by Vladimir Putin - replaces the Dollar as the currency of international exchange with a new commodity-backed unit called the 'bancor'.

The story doesn't focus on the 'macro' however, it describes the aftermath of these events through the eyes of a well-off American family whose lives are transformed when they lose everything they own. A populist Hispanic president, who seems cast in the image of Barack Obama, invokes emergency economic powers along the lines of those used by Franklin Roosevelt to seize privately owned gold - even wedding rings (which were exempted by Roosevelt) - and sends the Army to conduct door-to-door searches to collect it. The American future it portrays is the lives of Venezuelans todays - empty supermarket shelves, shortages of basic medicines, sky-high inflation and an increasingly oppressive government response to civil unrest.

There is no Big Brother in this story, no Fahrenheit 451-style burning of books (although books are largely obsolete in the digital culture) and no genetic-engineering of humans à la Brave New World. It is just American society today, projected twelve years into the future. That it is so realistic makes it all the more frightening. I hope at least a few of the members of the dysfunctional US Congress, which is once again debating raising the debt ceiling, reads it and considers the implications of their current spend-and-hope policies.

1 comment:

Mark Hubbard said...

Definitely on the read list. (Loved her since the Brisbane Lit Festival speech.