09 April 2012

The New Republic by Lionel Shriver

Flap Copy from ARC: "Fat and ostracized as a kid, Edgar Kellogg has always yearned to be popular. When he's offered the post of foreign correspondent in a Portugese backwater that has sprouted a homegrown terrorist movement, Edgar recognizes the disappeared larger-than-life reporter he's been sent to replace, Barrington Saddler, as exactly the outsize character he longs to emulate. Infuriatingly, all his fellow journalists cannot stop talking about the beloved 'Bear', who is no longer lighting up their work lives.

Yet all is not as it appears. 'The Daring Soldiers of Barba' have been blowing up the rest of the world for years in order to win independence for a province so dismal, backward, and windblown that you couldn't give the rat hole away. So why, with Barrington vanished, do terrorist incidents suddenly dry up?"

When I read "We Need to Talk About Kevin' several years ago, I couldn't put it down and I couldn't stop talking about it. I passed it along to friends and family, I recommended it to a book club, I wanted everyone to read and experience Shriver's unbelievably moving prose. Her characters and their emotions were truly alive, and I was engaged. When the opportunity for an advance copy of this 'old but new' book, 'The New Republic', I jumped, I couldn't wait to read another riveting Shriver tale. How sad to be so disappointed.

The premise behind the book is an interesting and relevant one: the real nature of journalism, and the power of the media to manipulate a story for its own purposes. Add to the mix a fictional, miserable corner of Portugal and the local terrorist group seeking independence for the people of Barba, and you have the potential for a humorous tale. Edgar Kellogg is our main character, a lawyer-turned-journalist and former fat kid whose inability to connect with other humans has left him floundering in his mid-thirties, still yearning for popularity and the approval of his peers. With a stroke of luck, Edgar lands a job as a stringer for a national paper and is sent to Barba to cover the terrorist activity and the disappearance of a revered journalist - once there, Edgar begins to see that all is not as it appears.

I just couldn't enjoy this book, I don't need to relate to characters, it's ok with me if they're not likable, but these weren't even interesting. I thought the first half of the book could have been cut in half again, which might have helped move along the fairly light plot, and perhaps made the mild twists a little more shocking. As it was, I felt bogged down in the characters' pretentious speak, and unable to engage with the story.

Shriver is a gifted and clever writer, and I look forward to reading something else from her - this just was not the book for me.

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