The Cockroach is McEwan’s latest work, a short political satire on Brexit. McEwan still has an incredible way of writing politics but I found his clarity had diminished slightly in this work. Perhaps it was because McEwan had so many layers of intertextuality and satire going on it made the meaning less evident.
McEwan adopts Kafka’s Metamorphosis by having his protagonist Jim Sam’s (the Prime Minister of Great Britain) transform into a giant creature. Unlike Kafka’s Gregor who turns into a giant bug, the PM retains a human form — I know it’s all a little confusing and it took me till the last few pages to figure it out. Sam’s wakes up from a night out in his original body, but his mind has been taken over by cockroaches. And so has the rest of the cabinet besides the foreign minister.
Instantly Sam’s recognises that the foreign minister has not transformed and can see he is an enemy. The others, all now being cockroaches, can put their differences aside and become one. Reversalism will be voted through Parliament.
McEwan wittily claims that none of these characters are taken from real life but the reader knows this is not true. You cannot help but draw similarities between the current government and the cockroaches. And there is also a visit from the US president himself!
I cannot help but think there is a pun in the title as well. But I’ll let your mind run free with that…
Of course, everything that occurs within the government is usually controversial and you can only expect the worst secrets to come out. Nonetheless, I disliked McEwan’s presentation of women and how they were used by men as a ploy to throw other members out. The PM gets a female colleague to call the rape card against the foreign minister for him to resign and of course, you have to believe the victim. This has happened countless times in Parliament and but I can’t help but feel like she is being used as a pawn. McEwan is depicting reality, the sickening reality of politics, but it just didn’t sit right with me.
Do I recommend this novella? If you have a good understanding of Brexit and British politics then yes. I think you need to have read a couple of McEwan’s other works (not Atonement) to understand his position and writing style, but McEwan depicts exactly how messed up Parliament is.