Cockroaches in human form are ministers in London. Your mission: chaos. Her weapon: the EU exit. A few weeks after the British original edition, this Brexit grotesque now appears in German.
Ian McEwan did not write the first novel about Brexit, but the first grotesque. "The Cockroach" is partly bursting funny, but also tragic to howl – and not unfairly controversial. Never before has the successful author gone so far to the limits of good taste with the criticism of real existing politicians – or even beyond, as some critics say.
Just a few weeks after the English original edition of "The Cockroach", the Zurich-based Diogenes-Verlag has now published the 144-page text in German.
The British prime minister is patting the American president for his fight for Brexit on the phone – McEwan lolls as "reversalism" – and then he says, "He has a personal question. Did Mr. President have six legs in the past? Suddenly the line is dead. And one guesses it: Even the most powerful man in the world is a vermin in human form.
Six legs and two feelers. Cockroaches (Blattodea), popularly cockroaches, are considered the most nauseating insects. Nothing is more alien to them than cleanliness and orderly conditions. In decay they thrive. Britain in chaos, brought about by an absurd policy that turns a functioning, EU-networked economy into a huge money-making machine. That's what the cockroach underworld dreams of. The logic: in chaos there is more rubbish, cockroaches live better then.
And with this mission, one of the smartest six-legged crawls into Downing Street # 10. He slips into the body of Jim Sams, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and relentless fighter for "reversalism." Franz Kafka sends his regards. In his 1912 narrative, The Transformation, Gregor Samsa wakes up one day and finds that he has been turned into a vermin. McEwan has chosen the reverse metamorphosis for his often amusing, but at times quite hard-working Brexit novella – not man to vermin, but vermin to man.
"If the parliament is shut down, so that at a critical moment the government can not be challenged, if ministers shamelessly lie like the Soviet leaders once did, when Brexiters in high places catastrophe the disaster of a no-deal – then a writer must ask himself what he can do, "McEwan is quoted by the Diogenes publishing house. And: "There is only one answer: write."
Of course, one can also get angry when writing. Especially when anger leads the pen. Not enough, that in the head and body of the Prime Minister lives a cockroach. The whole Cabinet of Government consists of cockroaches on two legs. Except for the Foreign Minister. But Boris, forgiveness, Jim, soon gets cold with a slanderous campaign. Sexual harassment. Although invented free but effective. Tell #MeToo and the man is done. The Cockroach Cabinet now has free rein. Ironically, the left-liberal "Guardian" has let himself be blue-eyed for it.
Reactions to the Brexit grotesque of the highly decorated writer were mixed in the real British media. And by no means as positive as in earlier works, including "Abbitte" (German 2002), "Saturday" (2005), "Kind well" (2014) and finally "Machines Like Me" (2019).
In the real "Guardian", the Irish literary critic Fintan O'Toole expressed doubts that the 71-year-old McEwan converted with his sharp satire even a Brexit trailer for the better. "In the era of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, the rulers create their own self-parodies and are admired by their fans."
Although O'Toole finds Brilliant, McEwan with the "reversalism" (it would, for example, the Germans voluntarily cork their export cars with cash and give away to Great Britain), the Brexit ad absurdum leads. But he also points out: "Comparing political opponents with cockroaches is a toxic metaphor with a bad political history, and it is therefore difficult to read McEwan's short story without some discomfort."
Close to the Tories, the conservative weekly The Spectator complained that it was inappropriate to portray democratically elected politicians as cockroaches: "That was the word used by the genocides in Rwanda to call their followers to action."
Undoubtedly, the book is celebrated in wealthy pro-EU strongholds as humorous and ingenious, wrote Robert Shrimsley, editor-in-chief of the Financial Times. He added, "For me, at least, it simply symbolizes the self-righteous inability to understand that half of the population that does not have enough innate sanity to agree with McEwan."
Ian McEwan: The cockroach. Diogenes Verlag, Zurich, 144 pages, 19,00 Euro, ISBN 978-3-257-07132-0