Review | Wednesday 28 March 2012
Before her Orange Prize-winning novel, We Need To Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver wrote seven books, one of which was unable to find an American publisher. Due to her ensuing success, this novel, The New Republic, a political satire on terrorism, has now been released. In the author’s note Shriver remarks on the difficulty of finding a publisher prior to 9/11 when terrorism was merely a ‘Foreigner’s Boring Problem’, and then finding herself in the same situation post 9/11 despite the nation’s attitude being radically changed. Now, ten years later, this book hopes to enter a new climate: terrorism-literate, with its sunny-side served up.
The plot of the novel, while not complicated, takes its time. Edgar Kellogg, formerly fat ex-lawyer, has turned to writing for the (fictional) broadsheet National Record. Within days, Edgar is sent to the (also fictional) peninsula of Barba, a Portugese backwater fighting for independence. Not only does Barba house a terrorist movement, Os Soldados Ousados de Barba (or SOB – yes, the joke ‘son of a bitch’ gets bandied about a lot) who for years enjoyed blowing up the rest of the world, it also houses National Record correspondent Barrington Saddler, who along with bombings by the SOB, has recently disappeared.
It’s an interesting combination. Despite its flaws, the central tenets of the novel are actually quite compelling. How much of terrorism is attributed to the presence of the media, or, in fact, encouraged? How much of a role does self-interest play in the development of such events? Although this reviewer found parts difficult to engage with (the first 200 pages could easily have been cut by half), readers of farce and cheap wordplay should enjoy this book. Those easily offended by poor taste, on the other hand, should stay well clear.
Nicole Lee is from Readings St Kilda