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
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