Ian McEwan was so inspired by the chaos created by the Tories and Brexit, he wrote The Cockroach.
The Kafkaesque novella follows Jim Sams as he undergoes a dramatic change from an average person to the most powerful man in Britain. After he awakes to find himself the Prime Minister Jim Sams soon realises he must carry out ‘the will of the people’ through any means necessary.
“As the nation tears itself apart, constitutional norms are set aside, parliament is closed down so that the government cannot be challenged at a crucial time and ministers lie about it shamelessly in the old Soviet style, and when many Brexiters in high places seem to crave the economic catastrophe of a no deal, and English national extremists are attacking the police in Parliament Square, a writer is bound to ask what he or she can do,’ McEwan said.
“There’s only one answer: write. The Cockroach is a political satire in an old tradition. Mockery might be a therapeutic response, though it’s hardly a solution. But a reckless, self-harming, ugly and alien spirit has entered the minds of certain politicians and newspaper proprietors. They lie to their supporters. They express contempt for judges and the rule and norms of law. They seem to want to achieve their ends by means of chaos. What’s got into them? A cockroach or two, I suspect.”
Dan Franklin, Associate Publisher at Jonathan Cape, said: “I can’t think of any other writer who could carry off such a plot with so much conviction and panache.”
Read an excerpt of The Cockroach below.
That morning, Jim Sams, clever but by no means profound, woke from uneasy dreams to find himself transformed into a gigantic creature. For a good while he remained on his back (not his favourite posture) and regarded his distant feet, his paucity of limbs, with consternation. A mere four, of course, and quite unmovable. His own little brown legs, for which he was already feeling some nostalgia, would have been waving merrily in the air, however hopelessly. He lay still, determined not to panic. An organ, a slab of slippery meat, lay squat and wet in his mouth – revolting, especially when it moved of its own accord to explore the vast cavern of his mouth and, he noted with muted alarm, slide across an immensity of teeth. He stared along the length of his body. His colouring, from shoulders to ankles, was a pale blue, with darker blue piping around his neck and wrists, and white buttons in a vertical line right down his unsegmented thorax. The light breeze that blew intermittently across it, bearing a not unattractive odour of decomposing food and grain alcohol, he accepted as his breath. His vision was unhelpfully narrowed – oh for a compound eye – and everything he saw was oppressively colourful. He was beginning to understand that by a grotesque reversal his vulnerable flesh now lay outside his skeleton, which was therefore wholly invisible to him. What a comfort it would have been to catch a glimpse of that homely nacreous brown.
All this was worrying enough, but as he came more fully awake he remembered that he was on an important, solitary mission, though for the moment he could not recall what it was. I’m going to be late, he thought, as he attempted to lift from the pillow a head that must have weighed as much as five kilos. This is so unfair, he told himself. I don’t deserve this. His fragmentary dreams had been deep and wild, haunted by raucous, echoing voices in constant dissent. Only now, as this head slumped back, did he begin to see through to the far side of sleep and bring to mind a mosaic of memories, impressions and intentions that scattered as he tried to hold them down.
Yes, he had left the pleasantly decaying Palace of Westminster without even a farewell. That was how it had to be. Secrecy was all. He had known that without being told. But when exactly had he set out? Certainly it was after dark. Last night? The night before? He must have left by the underground car park. He would have passed the polished boots of the policeman at the entrance. Now he remembered. Keeping to the gutter, he had hurried along until he had reached the edge of the terrifying crossing in Parliament Square. In front of a line of idling vehicles impatient to pestle him into the tarmac, he made a dash for the gutter on the far side. After which, it seemed a week passed before he crossed another terrifying road to reach the correct side of Whitehall. Then what? He had sprinted, surely, for many yards and then stopped. Why? It was coming back to him now. Breathing heavily through every tube in his body, he had rested near a wholesome drain to snack on a discarded slice of pizza. He couldn’t eat it all, but he did his best. By good luck it was a margherita. His second favourite. No olives. Not on that portion.