Mania is an interesting and challenging read from Shriver.

It’s a satire set in an alternate world in which the Mental Parity movement takes off in 2011. This movement essentially states that everyone is equally intelligent (some people simply process things in an alternative way). It’s not cool to discriminate and you certainly can’t use words like stupid or dumb. It’s cruel to have people pass or fail tests, or apply to university and not get in due to their intelligence. The outcome is that everyone can do everything, whether or not they’re qualified to do it…

Main character Pearson is defiant and furious. Can’t people see what’s right in front of them? She takes some comfort in saying what she really thinks in the privacy of her own home, but then her best friend starts berating her. She needs to be more thoughtful and careful, or she could lose her job or worse. But Pearson can only bring herself to hide her true feelings for so long. It gets to her – is everyone lying to themselves or do they all honestly think that being smart is bad, that it’s mean to differentiate based on intelligence?

It’s an interesting take on cancel culture or what happens when groupthink is forced upon us. It’s not an easy read though. Shriver’s main character often acts in unlikeable ways (she is very affectionate to her two eldest children, conceived with the sperm of a high IQ donor, but thoughtless about her ‘less intelligent’ youngest daughter, conceived with her partner). She has a tendency to place herself first and to ignore the consequences of her actions. She is, herself, obsessed by intelligence.

The novel also occasionally falls into talking at the reader rather than telling a story. This could be tiresome, but I read this as an interesting ‘what if’ novel, examining what could happen in a particularly extreme situation.

An important thing to note, if you don’t throw the book down mid-read, is that Shriver does give Pearson the gift of eventually being able to accept her mistakes and even change her mind. It’s something so many people online never do. For me, this is what takes me from a 3 to a 4-star review. I see Mania as a thought-provoking satire – and it works very well like that.