Ian McEwan’s latest book imagines a world in which a cockroach wakes up one day to find that he is human - and the prime minister.
McEwan, one of Britain’s most celebrated novelists and the author of On Chesil Beach, Atonement and Enduring Love, cites Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis as an influence, but the novella, The Cockroach, draws on events very much of our own time, namely Brexit.
In an interview with Euronews in Athens, McEwan makes no secret of his obsession with Britain’s exit from the European Union.
“Even as I hate it, I can’t leave it alone,”he says. “I’m a passionate remainer. I don’t pretend to give a balanced view. I think we’re making a huge mistake.”
“I think when you feel despair - especially with politics - something is coming the other way and that is laughter. Where laughter and despair meet, sometimes you find literature.”.
In The Cockroach it is not Brexit that is being implemented but a policy called ‘reversalism’, under which the flow of money is reversed. Instead of being paid to do a job, you pay to do it. Instead of paying shops for goods you buy, they pay you.
It is, he says, “a completely hopeless and absurd project - possibly almost as absurd as Brexit.”
When he reluctantly puts Brexit aside, it is climate change that keeps McEwan up at night, and he says he is supporter of teen activist Greta Thunberg, who inspired the Fridays For Future campaign that brought millions to streets over the past few weeks.
“I understand her anger, I admire the scathing tone she has,” he says. “We are at the beginning of a colossal challenge to human civilisation on the planet, and we’re doing very little.”