We need to talk about the Donald

9 May

The cat fancying bright orange elephant in the room didn’t take long to be exposed as Lionel Shriver drew parallels between the disappointing present and the dystopian future she imagines in her latest novel The Mandibles.

‘Since Donald Trump became president the dystopian novel has become popular for some reason’ said the American with a wicked glint in her eye.

Dystopian novels, she argues, are not about the future but about what people are afraid of in the present.

Her case is compelling, Shriver is a writer at the top of her game, peppering her talk with sardonic sideswipes and dark humour in conjuring the background to the genesis of The Mandibles.

Fake news and a Mexican border wall both feature in the novel which was written in those halcyon days before Trump had even entered the running for The White House.

Shriver has seen the future and it’s not a pretty sight.

Just twenty-two years from now, our ability to ‘keep electing morons’ has resulted in a financial meltdown which both ruins and strengthens the Mandible family.

2029 brings cabbage as a culinary treat, strictly rationed showers and shrill instructions to not ‘wash in clean water’.

Even Putin is still around, although at 75 he now keeps his shirt on.

The Mandibles themselves have spent a lifetime waiting for an inheritance which evaporates in the heat of the meltdown.

These are characters who ‘have to revise their expectations of life’ and deal with ‘disappointment and loss of power’.

The wreckage of the 2008 ‘Credit Crunch’ was Shriver’s inspiration for The Mandibles, economics providing ample material for a narrative of a world out of control.

The current reality of worldwide debt running at 225% of GDP when anything over 95% is viewed as unsustainable naturally leads to a future of cabbage au agua and intense body odour in Shriver’s chilling imagination.

A Q&A session which closed the event largely avoided talking about Kevin, the preceding forty minutes having proved so enthralling that it was new material not greatest hits which Swindon’s thinkers wanted to ask Shriver about.

She was flummoxed by just one audience enquiry as the trump trump trump of that agent orange elephant echoed around the room for a final time.

‘How did Donald Trump get elected?’ asked a mischievous voice from the rear of the Arts Centre. Shriver, with a shrug of defeat, conceded that she didn’t have any idea, adding that she was perplexed that this ‘unappealing man’ had become the choice of an electorate feeling deep dissatisfaction and resentment.

With her confident, incisive approach and an expertly claustrophobic reading from The Mandibles, Lionel Shriver, delivering one of the most thought-provoking evenings at any Swindon Festival of Literature, made it quite clear that while the future may not be bright, it doesn’t have to be orange either.

Lionel Shriver appeared at Swindon Arts Centre as part of Swindon Festival of Literature, 8 May 2017, with her book, The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047.

Words and pictures by Michael Scott.


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