"Plots set in the future are about what people fear in the present," says one of Lionel Shriver's characters in her latest novel set in a dystopian America of the near future.

The book begins 20 years after the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 and follows four generations of the once-wealthy Mandible family through America's economic collapse and its aftermath.

Shriver's futuristic vision is clever and often witty. Technology's been great - take driverless cars - but has drawbacks. Houses are now run on digital management systems that you must manually override every time they break down.

Kids no longer learn to write at school, leaving them unable to write cheques to put in the post after Chinese hackers destroy the internet.


There's a certain pleasure in seeing four generations of entitled Mandibles, including an incontinent, dementia-riddled stepmother, forced to cram into a tiny house in Flat Bush and then, as law and order breaks down, join thousands sleeping rough in Central Park during New York's now endless winter.

But it's not quite the apocalypse.

As the youngest Mandible points out, "Zombies aren't rampaging through the streets."

The teenager leads his family nearly 320km on foot to his survivalist uncle's farm, The Citadel, where the second half of the book begins in the now-Orwellian future of 2047.

Shriver has done her economic homework. A Financial Times reviewer called her explanations of the financial meltdown's mechanics, "intricate and convincing".

Sadly most of the exposition comes by way of preachy and unnatural dialogue which could be lifted straight from a textbook, letting down a smart and sometimes confrontational read.

The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047
by Lionel Shriver
(HarperCollins $60)