07 March 2012

The New Republic; Lionel Shriver

The New Republic: A Novel
The New Republic: A Novel by Lionel Shriver
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is one of those books with a thoroughly unlikeable hero. Edgar Kellogg has always wanted to be "someone": in prep school it was Toby Falconer, until he overhears Toby calling him "Special K" and "clingy". After years of practicing law (and at the point of making partner) he quits to take on the career of a journalist. This puts him back in touch with Toby, who has radically changed from the golden boy he was as a teen. Edgar doesn't quite buy that, despising Toby's change as much as he hated the original version.

Toby does prove useful, getting Edgar an interview with a newspaper. That leads to a posting in a fictitious part of Portugal, Barba, where the newspaper's famous reporter, Barrington Saddler, has recently gone missing. Barba is supposedly in the midst of an ETA/IRA-like attempt to secede from Portugal; the SOB are the terrorists, O Creme the political (and unlinked) branch. Problem is, since Barrington's disappearance the SOB's have gone quiet and all the reporters in Barba are bored and looking to leave. Edgar's brief is to find out what happened to Barrington as well as report on the situation in the country. Thanks to alcoholic-induced hallucinations of Barrington, Edgar does figure out what's going on, ultimately with tragic consequences. He also starts to become Barrington-esque, with the larger-than-life personality, insider sources and flirtation with Nicole.

It's not just Edgar's need to somehow become the people he idolizes, it's his personality that makes him unlikable. He sneers, makes caustic remarks, is rude and generally doesn't ingratiate himself with anyone (except perhaps Nicola). It's as though he deliberately looks for ways to be unlikable yet important and Someone To Know. The situation in Barba is interesting, with racism (anti-Muslim immigrants), boredom and a nearly inhospitable land mixing to create the need for the reporters to find something - anything - to amuse themselves. There are a few moments (one of the interviews with Tomas Verdade, a conversation with Barrington) that will make reader's think, but overall it's an unlikable person stirring up trouble.

ARC provided by publisher.

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