Book reviews: bestselling author Lionel Shriver imagines America after the collapse
Plus: nail-biting Scandic noir in Lars Kepler’s violent, unputdownable thriller; and Rick Riordan gives Apollo his Percy Jackson treatment
The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047
by Lionel Shriver
Lionel Shriver made her name with the international bestseller We Need to Talk about Kevin, a brave and brilliant dissection of parental alienation. She has continued to talk candidly about difficult subjects ever since. Having tackled her brother’s obesity (Big Brother), she now expands her focus to a United States suffering a collective nervous breakdown. The prism is the wealthy Mandible family, who believe that money ensures their futures. The creation of the “Bancor” by Vladimir Putin has such a cataclysmic effect on the dollar that the nation is plunged into a Depression. Running water turns grey, toilet paper is obsolete and every institution from universities to families are wrecked. Forced to draw on skills and inner resources they never thought they had, the complacent Mandibles confront life in its rawest forms. In this Shriver seems to be as intent on satirising the urban chattering classes as unpacking 21st-century economics. It is all done in intelligent, pointed fun. There is even an eccentric writer, Nollie (an anagram of Lionel), called a “Shriv” – slang for elderly. Embedded is an unsettling question: are other humans a burden or a lifeline? Tough as it is, The Mandibles is terrific fun – part provocation, part realistic apocalypse, part hymn to simpler life.
by Lars Kepler
When is a writer not a writer? When they are two writers. Lars Kepler is crime-writing duo Alexander Ahndoril and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril, who joined forces to create the character Joona Linna. Having wowed Scandinavia and then the world with The Hypnotist, Linna has starred in four more acutely realised thrillers. The set-up feels nastily contemporary. Police receive a film of a woman standing, innocently it seems, at her bedroom window. Who is filming and why? The answer to the latter arrives the next day when the woman is found murdered in the most brutal fashion imaginable. A second film of a second woman arrives. The tension, already close to unbearable, is turned up even further. Police fail to prevent the murder, which is so unpleasant that the victim’s shocked husband cleans her ravaged body and puts her to bed. Enter the aforementioned hypnotist, Erik Maria Bark, to delve into the man’s shattered subconscious. Fans of Kepler already know that Linna has gone AWOL since Sandman. But you don’t need to be a fanatic to guess that he is the key to stopping a third killing. Stalker is very unsettling, especially in its graphic depiction of violence. But it is so slickly plotted that it may prove impossible to put down.
The Trials of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle
by Rick Riordan (read by Robbie Daymond)
Rick Riordan has made a fortune turning Greek myths into 21st-century Young Adult novels thanks to Percy Jackson, a teenager who is the son of Poseidon. The Hidden Oracle begins a similar series. Our hero is a god, at least to begin with. Apollo is real hot stuff – god of the sun, a fair poet and heir to Zeus. Except Zeus has had enough and turns him into an ordinary teenage New York boy named Lester Papadopoulos. Riordan plays his smart, funny idea for all he is worth: “I wanted to eat. I wanted to use the restroom. My body hurt. My clothes stank. I felt as if my brain had been stuffed with wet cotton. Honestly, how do you humans stand it?” Bullied, ignored and made to feel, well, ordinary, Lester is like Superman in Superman 2 after he has rescinded his powers to be with Lois Lane. Luckily he has his own Lois in the form of 12-year-old Meg, who turns to Percy Jackson for help. Robbie Draymond does a fine impression of a spoiled, overindulged rich kid, all sighs and clipped frustration. This slowly morphs into something, well, more human. The comedy works superbly, but I have hopes for more action to develop in part two.