The New Republicby Lionel Shriver
Disgruntled New York corporate lawyer Edgar Kellogg is more than ready to leave his lucrative career for the excitement and uncertainty of journalism. When he's offered the post of foreign correspondent in a Portuguese backwater that has sprouted a homegrown terrorist movement, Edgar recognizes Barrington Saddler, the disappeared reporter Edgar's been sent to… See more details below
Disgruntled New York corporate lawyer Edgar Kellogg is more than ready to leave his lucrative career for the excitement and uncertainty of journalism. When he's offered the post of foreign correspondent in a Portuguese backwater that has sprouted a homegrown terrorist movement, Edgar recognizes Barrington Saddler, the disappeared reporter Edgar's been sent to replace, as exactly the outsize character he longs to emulate.
Yet all is not as it appears. Os Soldados Ousados de Barba—"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 and backward that you couldn't give the rat hole away. So why, with Barrington vanished, do terrorist incidents claimed by the "SOB" suddenly dry up?
The New Republic addresses weighty issues such as terrorism withthe deft, tongue-in-cheek touch that is vintage Shriver. It also presses the more intimate question: What makes particular people so magnetic, while the rest of us inspire a shrug? What's their secret? And in the end, who has the better life—the admired, or the admirer?
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As a journalist, I’ve been one of those who lived in anticipation of covering “a big story”, and when it happened; be it a natural disaster, horrific accident or multiple murder, almost gleefully sought out the gory details since the more casualties, the more dramatic the story, and the more likely my byline would appear on the front page. Lionel Shriver, a journalist herself, knows this rush and how being in the right place at the right time can make a career, just as poor timing and bad luck (for the journalist) can consign one to mediocrity. So how far would a journalist go so a “big story event” would land in their lap, where he or she would be on the scene, the go-to person for updates, the reporter other reporters are reporting on? When anonymous bombings take lives of civilians and no group comes forward to claim them, Shriver’s protagonist, Barrington Sadler, a larger than life character with a name to match, decides to attribute them to a fictitious terrorist group in a backwater part to the world he is assigned to cover. This provides him with the best of all possible situations for a journalist - being on the spot and having inside information (since he created it). When Sadler disappears, his replacement, Edward Kellogg, figures out the scam but rather than expose it, continues with it for the same reasons Sadler did. Shriver’s satirical novel asks important questions, specifically is the media complicit with terrorists when they give in-depth coverage of the carnage and background context about their cause? Shriver’s creation of the setting (fictitious) and political and economic grievances (contrived) all have the ring of authenticity as do her characters; the cynical media hacks, the pious spokesperson for the terrorists, and the academic apologists. The only thing this novel lacks is a sympathetic character, one the reader could align themselves with and cheer for. Everyone is self-serving and nasty. Though quite brilliantly conceived and written, once the message has been delivered the story peters out. It’s like the author imbued the characters with the necessary qualities, they did their job conveying various aspects of the story, and then she had no idea what to do with them. The protagonist almost literally rides off into the sunset.
LIonel likes to tell the world how much she hates it. Truth be told, she is a spoiled New Yorker who lost empathy with the human race. To write a comedy about terrorism is beneath contempt. Bravo to the NY Times for trashing it. She is not a great American writer.