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Kafka is brought up to date for the age of Brexit and Trump.

Never mind that in his Lectures on Literature Vladimir Nabokov protested that “he approaches a cockroach in only one respect: his coloration is brown”: Gregor Samsa, or, that is, Jim Sams, emphatically starts life as a cockroach in McEwan’s (MachinesLike Me, 2019, etc.) reimagining of The Metamorphosis. Then he awakens to discover that he has just four limbs as well as, revoltingly, that “an organ, a slab of slippery meat, lay squat and wet in his mouth.” That unwonted tongue will come in handy, but for the moment Jim has other things to attend to, for he’s not just a human, but also the prime minister of the United Kingdom. Instead of leaving the European Union, he has another item on his agenda: He’s backing a weird economic notion called reverse-flow economics, or Reversalism, whereby "the money flow [will] be reversed....At the end of a working week, an employee hands over money to the company for all the hours she has toiled. But when she goes to the shops, she is generously compensated...for every item she carries away.” It’s easy to get the American president, a fan of “fleet-footed liberation from detail,” to sign on to immiserate the taxpayers once Jim explains that he can take all the money slated for the Pentagon and make it flow up the chain into his own pocket, with the magical result that “seven hundred and sixteen billion dollars would be his.” Why bother small-scale looting when there’s so much pelf to be had? Of course, Jim twigs, the American president is on board only because he was once a cockroach himself, as were the rest of the world’s ruling and governing class, who flourish wherever people tolerate “poverty, filth, squalor” and choose to live in darkness. McEwan sweeps wide but hits home, Nabokov aside: He does a pitch-perfect Trump, pegs Angela Merkel’s bewilderment that her former allies are “inflicting these demands on your best friends,” and highlights the venality of the Leave crowd in Britain today.

A grimly effective entertainment, at once broad as a saber and pointed as a pike.

Pub Date: Oct. 8th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-593-08242-3
Page count: 112pp
Publisher: Anchor
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2019


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