cover image The Cockroach

The Cockroach

Ian McEwan. Anchor, $11 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-0-593-08242-3

In this slight, occasionally diverting satirical exercise about the follies of Brexit from McEwan (Machines Like Me), a Machiavellian cockroach advances a disastrous economic policy. The roach emerges from the “pleasantly decaying” Palace of Westminster to inhabit the “clever but by no means profound” prime minister, a description that could equally apply to the novella. It seeks to secure the passage of Reversalism, a cockamamie plan that would reverse the flow of money such that people are paid to shop and pay to work: “The better, and therefore more costly, the job she finds for herself, the harder she must shop to pay for it.” Once the premise is established, all eeriness drains away. McEwan dutifully describes the slithery parliamentary maneuvers, disinformation campaigns, and ginned-up scandals employed by the prime minister to ram the proposal through. The American president, Archie Tupper—a thinly veiled Donald Trump—makes a requisite cameo, intrigued that Reversalism would reroute his nation’s defense budget to his bank account. McEwan gets in some good lines about Twitter as “a primitive version... of the pheromonal unconscious” and the thrill of weaving “a closely knit sequence of lies. So this was why people became writers.” The lone spark of interest, though, lies in why this famously hardy species would care to meddle in human affairs. The answer makes about as much sense as Reversalism. (Oct.)