Thursday, April 19, 2012

"If Jodi Picoult has her finger on the zeitgeist, Shriver has her hands around its throat"

I've been an admirer of the American novelist Lionel Shriver since the publication of her seminal 2003 novel We Need to Talk About Kevin. The book is still a favourite and her subsequent books, So Much for That, her take on the U.S health care system, and Post Birthday World, an unflinching look at boredom and desire within a marriage, are rock solid.
Shriver's literary trajectory before Kevin, however, was spotty at best, and her publisher recently released a novel that she had in a drawer after her publisher at the time rejected the manuscript. It's been reworked a bit (new ending) Shriver's novel, the New Republic has come out to some pretty curious reviews.More on that in a moment.

Edgar Kellogg is a drone of a corporate lawyer who has decided to try journalism as a way to re-invent himself.
His youthful uncertainties are still very much a part of him and he ends up in a Poruguese backwater where a homegrown terrorist threat has sprouted. Kellogg has replaced the charismatic Barrington Sadler, who has disappeared and the threat of further violence is ever present.
Or is it?

The New Republic is essentially a send up of journalists and of the vagaries of international intrigue.  The book couldn't have come out when it was written, both for reasons relating to Shriver and to the state of the world; which she chronicles in a brief foreward.

The New Republic is a different animal than the aforementioned novels but worth reading simply because Lionel Shriver is a great storyteller.  Reviews have been uneven, some noting that the book doesn't read like her later work, comes off as dated, etc. This ignores the fact that artists develop over time and skill sets don't appear out of thin air. Perhaps the admission that publishers took a pass on the manuscript prejediced some reviews, but again, that is hardly uncommon.  More than twenty publishers rejected the first Harry Potter novel.
Some noted the book reads like an attempt at Graham Greene or employs the broad satire of an Evenyn Waugh.  Perhaps so, but no one is howling that the Huner Games reads like a Lord of the Flies for our generation, or the much hyped Fifty Shades of Grey owes more than a bit to the early Anne Rice (minus any hint of editing apparently) but this is beside the point.

Shriver is a keeper, even when she's not at her best, and to quote the Washington Post book critic Ron Charles, "if Jodi Picoult has her finger on the zeitgeist, Shriver has her hands around its throat"


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