Sunday, April 21, 2013
The New Republic by Lionel Shriver
Published in paperback April 2013 by Harper Perennial
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for this review
Edgar Kellogg has always yearned to be popular. When he leaves his lucrative law career for a foreign correspondent post in a Portuguese backwater with a homegrown terrorist movement, Edgar recognizes Barrington Saddler, the disappeared reporter he’s replacing, as the larger-than-life character he longs to emulate. Yet all is not as it appears. Os Soldados Ousados de Barba—”The Daring Soldiers of Barba” —have been blowing up the rest of the world for years in order to win independence for a province so dismal and backward that you couldn’t give the rathole away. So why, with Barrington vanished, do incidents claimed by the “SOB” suddenly dry up? A droll, playful novel, The New Republic addresses terrorism with a deft, tongue-in-cheek touch while also pressing a more intimate question: What makes particular people so magnetic, while the rest of us inspire a shrug?
Before I started blogging I read Lionel Shriver's We Need To Talk About Kevin. It's a brilliant piece of writing, incredibly tense, stunningly horrific. Shriver clearly meant for the book to provoke controversy, exploring as it does nature versus nurture, maternal instinct, inherent evil. Since that book, I've had high expectations for Shriver. Last June, unable to convince the Omaha Bookworms to tackle We Need To Talk About Kevin, I recommended we try So Much For That. If I were looking for another book that provokes controversy from Shriver, in that she succeeded. Unfortunately, it was the only point on which she succeeded with me. Even so, I couldn't write Shriver off.
After The New Republic, I may. In her defense, Shriver actually wrote this book fifteen years ago, perhaps before she had mastered her craft. On the other hand, she has said that very little was changed before the book was finally published. One would think that if she saw flaws in her work, for example that it's not nearly as witty as she intended it to be, she would have corrected them.
Shriver never seems to particularly care whether or not her readers care about the characters in her books. The New Republic is no exception. There's a reason Edgar longs to be popular, until he was in high school he was fat, morbidly obese in fact. He spends his high school years idolizing the school's Golden Boy. The problem is that even after he loses the weight, Edgar is still not popular and finds himself still desperately craving popularity and hating those who have it. And why is he not popular? Shriver wants her readers to ponder the question of what it is that makes people gravitate to certain individuals. But it's not just a matter of Edgar not having "it." Edgar is an ass. He is always looking to pick a fight, always defensive. And the pack of journalists he falls in with in Barba aren't much better, pretentious, nasty, and much less happy about being in Barba than Edgar is.
Edgar only goes from bad to worse once he gets to Barba. While living in the home Saddler has abandoned, Edgar discovers a way to try to live the life of his dreams but at a terrible price. Making him an even worse person. Great, just want I wanted to read about.
Shriver thought that the time was right for a book about terrorism. Pre-2011, she believed Americans weren't interested in a book about terrorism. Post-2011, she believed it was too soon for Americans to read a book that satirized terrorism. So here it is, coming out in paperback in April 2013, the month that terrorism once again strikes America. Even had that not happened, I'm not sure there is ever a time that satire and terrorism belong together in a book, not in this day and age.
check out the full book tour.
Lionel Shriver’s novels include the National Book Award finalist So Much for That, the New York Times bestseller The Post-Birthday World, and the international bestseller We Need to Talk About Kevin. Her journalism has appeared in the Guardian, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. She lives in London and Brooklyn, New York.