The New Republic is Lionel Shriver’s
latest release, but actually her second novel, written in the
aftermath of We Need To Talk About Kevin at a time she
was viewed as publisher’s poison. It is the story of former
fat boy Edgar Kellog, a man who has always been a follower,
albeit one who desperately wishes to be the idolised rather
than the idoliser.
Casting aside a lucrative but stultifying career as a
corporate lawyer, he decides to follow in the footsteps of a
schoolboy hero and enter the glamorous, if uncertain, world
of journalism. Foreign correspondent to the Portuguese
province of Barba is not exactly the romantic position he
imagined, but it is the only offer on the table.
Regret sets in the moment he arrives in a dreary region
distinguished only by its indigenous fruit (the foul-smelling
and worse tasting pera peluda), the incessant wind known as o
vento insano, and the SOB, a terrorist group whose attacks on
international targets in the name of Barban independence are
the only reason the rest of the world has even heard of the
To make matters worse, he is being sent to replace exactly
the sort of man he longs to be.
Barrington Saddler is legendary among his fellow journalists,
a charismatic, larger-than-life character who has a knack for
being in the right place at the right time. Even his arrival
in Barba coincided with the emergence of the SOB, turning
what was supposed to be a period of journalistic purgatory
into career gold, and his mysterious disappearance has been
accompanied by a sudden cessation in SOB hostilities.
Edgar soon realises this may be more than just coincidence,
and as he begins to uncover Barrington’s secrets, he slowly
finds himself the centre of events – and with the
uncomfortable insight that it is not such an enviable
position after all.
Although Shriver has a well-earned reputation for dealing
with morally and politically difficult questions, her novels
are tempered by a sharp and well-observed sense of irony and
a tongue-in-cheek black humour.
With its themes of terrorism and the price of popularity and
power, The New Republic does not shy away from such
challenging material, but leaves it up to readers to draw
their own conclusions.
Not as grim as some of her other work, it is an enjoyable
diversion.Part cautionary fable, part adventure story, it
escapes the bleakness she sometimes displays and achieves a
balance between entertainment and ethical ambiguity that
raises it above mere polemic.
- Dr Cushla McKinney is a Dunedin scientist.