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Likely Stories: The Cockroach – by Ian McEwan

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

If you are a long-time listener to Likely Stories, you might know, Ian McEwan is one of my most favorite novelists.  Ian has a rapier wit when he needs it, and he is a writer of renown.  I have read almost all his novels, and I never—for even a moment—have lost the depth and expertise of his writing.  His latest novel, The Cockroach, is satire of the highest order.  If you are not familiar with McEwan, pick up a copy of any of his nineteen novels.



This novel is one peculiar piece of literature!  James Sams wakes up one day and finds he has been transformed into the Prime Minister of England.  McEwan writes, “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 9not his favorite 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.  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” (1).  I actually had to read this passage twice to make sure I had not fallen into a vast Kafkian nightmare.

McEwan describes the more than weird political moves in this story.  See if you can figure out which politician matches which cockroach.  Ian writes, “The origins of Reversalism are obscure and much in dispute, among those who care.  For most of its history, it was considered a thought experiment, an after-dinner game, a joke.  It was the preserve of eccentrics, of lonely men who wrote compulsively to the newspapers in green ink.  Of the sort who might trap you in a pub and bore you for an hour.  But the idea, once embraced, presented itself to some as beautiful and simple.  Let the money flow be reversed and the entire economic system, even the nation itself, will be purified, purged of absurdities, waste and injustice.  At the end of a working week, an employee hands over the money to the company for all the hours she has toiled.  But when she goes to the shops, she is generously compensated at retail rates for every item she carries away.  She is forbidden by law to hoard cash.

The structure of this novel is also interesting.  There are four chapters, each has exactly twenty-five-pages.  All-in-all, this story was a hoot!  I especially admired the wonderful wordsmith of Ian McEwan’s fun story, The Cockroach.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!


Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.