Tuesday, March 27, 2012

book review: The New Republic by Lionel Shriver

The backstory: Originally written in 1998 and rejected by publishers, Lionel Shriver's The New Republic still feels like a modern, contemporary novel.

The basics: The New Republic is a satire of terrorism, which sounds preposterous, but Shriver manages to be witty, evocative, informative and engaging. Corporate lawyer Edgar Kellogg decides he wants to become a journalist. With little experience, he lands an interview at a national newspaper. Against the odds, he gets a job covering Barta, an invented peninsula off of Portugal that has a newly active homegrown terrorist group. The reporter who had been covering it, Barrington Sadler, has gone missing. The job is Edgar's until Barrington returns.

My thoughts: Despite having read and enjoyed two of Shriver's earlier novels, We Need to Talk About Kevin and So Much for That--which made my top 10 of 2010, I was somewhat apprehensive about The New Republic. Would it really be good enough to publish now when it wasn't in 1998? Or was the publisher simply banking on Shriver's fame, which is much larger, both commercially and critically, than it was then? I was relieved to enjoy the satire so much I was frequently laughing out loud. Shriver's humor isn't one that will appeal to everyone, and some will likely find it appalling.

Perhaps more important, some may find this novel incredibly dull. It's a novel about terrorism and journalism with very little action:
"Toby figured your law skills would transfer to journalism: interviewing, library research, writing up cases."
As Edgar, and by extension the reader, know nothing about Barba, there is a deluge of information. I found it fascinating to see Edgar research this country and people, but I also teach college students how to conduct research for a living. I frequently contemplated how I could incorporate parts of this novel into my courses.

What will really affect if you like or dislike this novel, however, is Edgar himself. He is both likable and unlikable. He has more self-esteem but strong self-awareness:
"Edgar's biggest concern about his own character was that he wasn't original. He didn't know how to become original except by imitating other people who were." 
This lack of self-confidence shapes the events of the novel in many ways. While some readers may not relate, this satire straddles just the right amount of reality to both hilarious and prescient.

Favorite passage: "Her far-flung general knowledge, for instance, translated neatly into superficiality: she could discuss anything for five minutes and nothing for half an hour. When she professed strong views about new Freud biographies at parties, she'd read the reviews. She subscribed to all the right magazines but only skimmed the pull-quotes, and in movies concentrated primarily on the credits."

The verdict: Lionel Shriver's sardonic wit takes center stage in this inventive and funny novel of terrorism, journalism and international life. The New Republic is at times joyously preposterous, but the underlying wisdom and cynicism shine through and make this delightfully funny novel not only entertaining, but also informative and intriguing.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 400 pages
Publication date: March 27, 2012 
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The New Republic from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

24 comments:

  1. I loved Kevin, but hated So Much for That so wasn't very excited about this one. Your review confirms that this book won't be for me - I don't get her humour and this quote from your review:
    "Perhaps more important, some may find this novel incredibly dull. It's a novel about terrorism and journalism with very little action:" worries me a lot.

    Thanks for removing a book from my TBR pile :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, Jackie--I don't think you'd like this one at all!

      Delete
  2. I think I would definitely wait to read this one until I've read some of her others. I loved Kevin, but that's the only one I've read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Melissa--It wasn't my favorite of hers, but the three I've read are all so different. The Post Birthday World is next in line for me, then I may explore more of her earlier stuff!

      Delete
  3. My wife considers Kevin one of her all-time favorite novels ever ever, but I have not been able to get in to it. I suspect this one isn't for me but I bet my wife will love it -- she loves dark, sly, sardonic humor.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Audra--I struggled with Kevin in the beginning and thought of abandoning. I ended up loving it (although not quite as much as So Much for That). All three of the her novels I've read are so different. She's a wonderful author, but difficult to pinpoint! It sounds like it would be right up your wife's alley though!

      Delete
  4. I enjoy sardonic wit so I'd probably like this one, even though I haven't enjoyed any of her others. Although, I am starting Kevin this weekend so that could all change.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll be eager to hear your thoughts on Kevin! I think you'd like this one and its humor. It's a fascinating one, but it's not for everyone.

      Delete
  5. I love Shriver, and have read three of her books, and loved every one. I have this one too, and am excited about it. Her brand of wit is so unique, and even if she doesn't stray far into topics other than the two you mentioned, I can imagine that this is a book that I am going to love. Great review today!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Zibilee--I'll be eager to hear your thoughts on this one!

      Delete
  6. Okay, I feel better about trying this one now. When I received this one, the thought of another book about terrorism seemed unbearable, but just maybe knowing its witty I can handle it;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's definitely not your average book on terrorism. I think you might like it, Diane.

      Delete
  7. I have to admit that the fact this was rejected in 1998 would put me off. Add that to the fact that I was ambivalent about We Need to Talk About Kevin, and I don't think this is the one for me!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sam--it's quite different from Kevin, but it's certainly not a novel everyone will enjoy.

      Delete
  8. I really like how you described this book - full of information but potentially dull with very little action. I think most readers can make a good decision based on that description. I'm not very familiar with Shriver's work so I might need to check out his more popular works to fully appreciate this one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Jenna! Shriver is a rather divisive author, but I really enjoy her range.

      Delete
  9. I've been debating about whether to read this or not for the very reason you said at the beginning. I've read some of her earlier books and they didn't do it for me. Still, she is a really talented writer who just has a gift for these amazing powers of description.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jenners--I don't think it's her best work, but it was entertaining and thought provoking.

      Delete
  10. I haven't read any of her books and really want to, but this is an author who intimidates me!! I really need to just jump into one of her books and get the shock over with LOL. But I'm not sure if I'd start with this one. (Although I might have if netgalley hadn't archived the title before I downloaded it, LOL).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I really enjoy Shriver, and while I think she's brilliant, I don't think she's intimidating. She has that gift to appeal to more casual readers as well as dedicated literary fiction readers. Whichever one you start with, I hope you read her soon!

      Delete
  11. Always love reading her books. her earlier novel : The Game Control was about African politics and population boom, as sardonic as ever and I love it. I'll try this one. Thanks for the review!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. JoV--I haven't heard much about The Game Control, but I'm slowly making my through her backlist. I'll keep an eye on it, as I've enjoyed her political novels in particular.

      Delete
  12. I heard her read the opening pages of this novel at a local event last week and the interview that followed me convinced me to not only read this book (I've read two of her other novels, Kevin and Post-Birthday World), but every single book that she's written. If you ever have the change to attend an event with her, I think you'll find her absolutely hilarious, in just the way you'd expect from the humour in her prose (which, as you've said, is not everybody's idea of funny).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would love to see her in person! I am definitely one who adores her humor (and politics). She strikes me as incredibly brilliant and funny, so I'm glad to hear she is also personable!

      Delete

Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!