Lionel Shriver at the John Adams Institute in Amsterdam

   If you were to type Lionel Shriver into the Google search bar, you’d likely find her synonymous with the term “American Contrarian.” Even the John Adams Institute in Amsterdam promoted their interview discussing her latest book Mania (2024) by conspicuously brandishing Lionel Shriver, American Contrarian in big, black lettering on the top of their page. Shriver acquired this label by going against the herd, by boo-ing rather than bleating.

   In her quiet hours, Schriver admits that she doesn’t identify with the term though she does recognise its commercial appeal – there’s no denying that her distinguished title has played a significant role in driving her steady sales. Her provocative novels, wrought with sharp social commentary, grapple with recurring motifs of family dynamics, societal issues, and the human condition which her new novel definitely doesn’t shy from.

The premise of her latest book Mania raises the question “What if calling someone stupid was illegal?” Initially, the question may seem absurd, especially when posed by an opponent of “woke” culture, yet upon deeper examination, the question doesn’t fall too far from the fabric of our present society. In 2022, the Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative at Standford University released a list of potentially harmful words alongside a list of non-threatening words that students and staff should consider using instead. For example, the list considers using the word “boring,” in place of “stupid” – a word that couldn’t paint a more disparate picture of Lionel Shriver.

   Tracy Metz, the director of the John Adams Institute, introduced the controversial character to the audience as a “fierce and fearless” writer, brave enough to tackle the subjects that everybody, whole-heartedly, tries to avoid. The interview was a raucous discussion on moral panic that fueled laughter, as well as exclamations of distaste from the eagle-eyed crowd who hung on to every word. These opposing responses mirrored the contentious persona that is Lionel Shriver.

   “Content Warning: This website contains language that is offensive or harmful. Please engage with this website at your own pace,” alerts the reader in the document I mentioned above. Perhaps, a trigger warning should be placed beneath Lionel Shriver, American Contrarian too, so that readers are forewarned about Shriver’s fierce and fearless intelligence.

    While there may be several things that one could find at fault about the American Contrarian, it’s undeniable that Lionel Shriver is a woman of unwavering self-assurance ­­ – an increasingly rare trait in today’s world, especially given the complexities and uncertainties we all face.  Eva Lakeman  9th May 2024