“Without any journalists watching, everyone might just go home…You’re inciting them. If you keep waiting for a story, they might just give you one.”
Lionel Shriver delivers a satirical knockout with “The New Republic.” Originally written in 1998, Shriver argued this book could not get published from a combination of poisonous sales record and her American compatriots considered “terrorism as Foreigner’s Boring Problem.” After 9-11, the thought of publishing a novel on terrorism would have been “in poor taste.” Thankfully time has passed, sales have improved and we have been gifted with Shriver’s genius. She has never shied away from speaking about taboo topics, some that make some cringe, other’s rage and most appreciate the biting truth. In “We Need to Talk About Kevin” we saw another side to school killings and motherhood in its grittiest sense, and now we see an amoral view on terrorism, xenophobia, and media.
Based in Barba, a fictitious peninsula in Portugal, we are introduced to a tumultuous climate, not only literally but politically. In comes Edgar Kellogg. A former fat boy and lawyer turned freelance journalist, looking to escape his second string complex and finally get his big break. Much to his chagrin, he is charged with finding out was happened to his predecessor, Barrington Sadler, who disappeared while reporting on the SOB (Os Soldado Ousados de Barba) who claim international bombing. When Kellogg arrives, his complex comes back with full force as he finds that everyone cannot stop talking about the infamous Barrington Sadler. It isn’t long before Edgar realizes there is more to Saddler than all rumours his fellow Rat Pack spew. Bombings, international recognition and effect on local policy increase, and soon it isn’t long before things begin to spiral.
I went to Shriver’s public reading and discussion on this book and she said that she decided to write about terrorism after living in Belfast during the IRA heyday. She argued that the biggest problem with terrorism is that everyone was so quick to give them international focus, which is what they really want. Instead, they should be charged as criminals and not give in to what they want. She said while living in Belfast, she saw the back hand deals between the IRA and the local Government, while said Government condemned the IRA’s actions. The same can be said with the SOB and the separatist group O Crème de Barbear, who refer to the SOB as “volunteers” furthering their cause against the influx in North African immigrants. Early on, the Crème had little funding but as the SOB grew more violent and prolific, so did the Crème’s spending, popularity and effect on the culture.
Everyone can agree that terrorism is bad, but Shriver succeeds in highlighting that it is so much more than the murder of innocent people. She gives us characters we love to hate but understand their drive and motives. Politics aren’t always black and white and “political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Lionel Shriver makes you think, see things from a different perspective, feel a myriad of emotions, all the while gripping you by the throat and make you say things you may not have said. Books strive for a reaction, and Shriver does just that.