Book review: ‘The Cockroach’ by Ian McEwan

(No spoilers)

Hold onto your shorts, I’ve been a bit poorly and busy so this week I’m going to give you a short review (but it’s alright, it’s a short book).

Let me start by saying that I am a HUGE fan of Ian McEwan. For a while, ‘Saturday’ was my favourite book of all time and I am one of the thousands of British schoolchildren that read ‘Atonement’ as part of their GCSE English studies. Not-so-fond memories of secondary school, made slightly more hilarious by the memory of my classmate Liz having to read aloud the word ‘cunt’ in front of the whole class, making our teacher (who clearly hadn’t read that far forward) choke on a gulp of tea.

All this, so perhaps when reading ‘Cockroach’, my expectations were a little high, or I was too tired to engage my brain properly. I was stumbling through Stansted airport bleary-eyed, saw the name Ian McEwan and automatically grabbed it. Had I read the long blurb (cleverly hid on the inside cover) then it would have been clear that this would be politics-heavy, which is not the kind of subject I’m keen to douse myself in any further this year.

So, in case you hadn’t guessed, this novella is a comic twist on the current Brexit situation in modern-day Britain, playing on ‘Metamorphosis’ by Franz Kafka.

If those ‘politick’ words make you recoil or gag, this isn’t the book for you.

Jim Sams is our protagonist, a prime minister-cum-cockroach who has lived the world as a hated-being, a tiny spot on the pavement of Britain and has now woken up wearing the skin suit of the most powerful man in the country. The premise is ridiculous, but then again, so is the politics and it mirrors this quite perfectly. It’s also very up-to-date, with Jim Sans resembling at first Theresa May, then Boris Johnson, even incorporating the suggestion that he should: “prorogue parliament for a few months”.

For you Americans, here is our now-Prime Minister ploughing into a small child. You’re welcome.

Instead of using Brexit explicitly, it is the theory of ‘Reversalism’ which the characters are trying to push through. The general idea is that the economic flow of money is reversed – workers pay their employers for the time they have worked, but in turn are paid to shop and contribute back into the economy. Those who had previously earned more are required to buy more in order to pay off their working debts. Changes to Trade means that exporters will pay Britain to take their goods, and Britain will also pay other countries to import their own goods and services.

It must have been difficult to think of an idea more crackpot than Brexit, but Ian McEwan manages to do so, showing us in turn how easy it is for Jim to convince members of the public and parliament to sign up to their own destruction. This serious note is punctured by some absurd scenes including imagined phone conversations between the Prime Minister and the US President, where the uneducated latter is clearly so inept and/or likely to bring his own country down that our UK cockroach decides to ask him outright whether he is one of the resistance, (a fellow bug). We never explicitly find out whether the thinly-veiled Trump character is one or not, but the insinuation seems to be that Trump is stupid enough (and too easily distracted by greed) to bring around destruction without the need for help.

Ian McEwan’s grasp of language is, as always, witty and delightful. But even the adventures of a cleverly disguised, dressed-to-the-nines cockroach is not enough to balance the tedious boredom of the average parliamentary subject’s actions day-to-day.

Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy reading this book one bit, and it took me three days despite being only 100 pages long because I kept losing concentration.

Wa waaaaaa. *sad violins*


Am I being too harsh?

What do you think of ‘Cockroach’? Does it deserve more than 2 stars?

Please god don’t DM me with suggestions for new novels regarding politics – I’d prefer to get away from the current climate with a good book to lose myself in, rather than read about it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s