Lionel Shriver goes where other writers fear to tread. The Mandibles, opens in 2029 in America where the economy is collapsing and society imploding. Lionel joined Damian and Rebecca Palmer from Corney & Barrow for A Book and a Bottle Salon at the Cheltenham Literature Festival.
You don’t pick up a Lionel Shriver novel expecting an easy, comforting read. It would be foolish to kick off your shoes and put up your feet – better don a suit of armour and sharpen your wits for the acerbic author of the infamous ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’.
Shriver’s latest novel is by turns thrilling and hilarious – a combination few writers could pull off. The Mandible family have been expecting to inherit a fortune from their grandfather, the cravatted and cultured Douglas, a famous literary agent. But in 2029 the dollar is devalued spectacularly, a cabbage soars to $20 and water is rationed. Mass unemployment, hyper-inflation and civil unrest are the backdrop for this increasingly prescient novel.
“It’s crazy how real it’s all becoming,” said Shriver, at our special Salon. “Food inflation has already started – look at Marmite-gate. We’ll have wars over water soon. But really, this is a family drama. And it’s all about class. Americans don’t think we have a class system but we do – it’s more about money than here where it’s about culture and breeding. The Mandibles are brought low but it’s not all bad.”
To begin, things are about as bad as they get – the whole clan is forced to live under one roof. Spectacular rows ensue as ancient family resentments resurface between the two sisters, Florence and Avery. Supermarket shelves empty as hoarders swoop and their gentrified neighbourhood descends into a no-go zone roamed by yuppies turned robber. Levity arrives with the return of Nollie, the sarcastic older sister, a novelist who has been living in Paris on her limited fame.
“Of course she’s based on me,” cackled Lionel. “I mean, I couldn’t write a novel in which my selfish ageing generation is the cause of all this woe without poking fun at myself.” Nollie is, of course, an anagram of Lionel.
No wonder they could all do with a drink. Viognier is the choice tipple of Avery, a therapist, and Lowell, an economics professor fired for not predicting the crash.
“It’s a deliciously sly choice,” says Rebecca Palmer from Corney & Barrow. “Just wine savvy enough, the wine version of Farrow & Ball to mark them out from Dulux Pinot Grigio. Good Viognier is rarely cheap and Avery hides the receipt in the trashcan – ‘the exchange rate with the nouveau franc must have been ghastly’. Wines from the Languedoc are famously good value and this Terre de Lumiere Viognier from organic vineyards is no exception.”
“I like big whites,” says Lionel and the audience at our Salon emptied their glasses swiftly. “I can’t believe this is under a tenner!”
Chateauneuf-du-Pape is one of many wines in the book – see our extensive bibulous-o-graphy. “It reminds me of Nollie,” says Rebecca. “Given her Francophile leanings, ‘never-give-up’ vigour and essentially generous spirit, I think she would enjoy a gutsy red with grip but a soft centre. Classic and rich but feisty.”
Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee Tradition 2014, Vignobles Gonnet is certainly all of that. “I want this wine to run in my veins,” says Lionel.
The world of the Mandibles seems frighteningly close. But, as Lionel says, it’s not all bad: “The money they were counting on corroded their relationships and made them lazy – suddenly having nothing makes them re-evaluate one another and see what’s truly important.”
In 2029, when the story starts, will the world still have wine? “The world wine map is under threat from climate change,” says Rebecca, pouring a glass of Wiston Estate Brut NV. “Will Sussex overtake Champagne as temperatures rise? Will we be ripening Grenache in Kent?”
In truth, any of these bottles is a worthy partner for this book but for Lionel the viognier won out: “I can totally see Avery and Lowell sipping this in their ridiculously posh kitchen and serving it at their dinner parties while the rest of America goes mad.”
So, Terre de Lumiere Viognier is the perfect #NovelPairing for the Mandibles. A toast to the end of the world as we know it!