After reading the opening lines of Ian McEwan’s The Cockroach, I was immediately, and expectedly, reminded of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis.” The initial pages of the book are, broadly put, “Metamorphosis” inverted. However, even though Kafka readers will positively be entertained reading McEwan’s work, the story itself is not Kafkaesque — we do not really feel that we are in one of Kafka’s nightmares. Jim Sams, the main character of The Cockroach, is not ‘struck by the absurd,’ as Albert Camus would have put it. Moreover, the story’s aim is not to answer, “What would happen if a cockroach turns into a man?” That’s merely the first 15 or so pages of the book. After that, The Cockroach crosses the perimeters of “The Metamorphosis” to become something else — a political satire.
There are significant differences between Jim Sams of The Cockroach and Gregor Samsa of “Metamorphosis,” but one of the differences is much more significant than the rest. When Gregor Samsa is metamorphosed into an insect, he is still the same person. He does not adopt the insect’s character, its mind, or its memories. On the other hand, when Jim Sams becomes human, he remembers who he was as a cockroach — he is still himself — but he also has access to the mind and memories of the human body he now pilots. But that’s not all. The story becomes more interesting (and frightening) when we discover that the cockroach who now controls the human body of Britain’s prime minister has a political agenda.
Jim Sams wants to transform Britain into a ‘Reversalist’ country. We are introduced to the concept of ‘Reversalism’ in the second chapter of the book. Concisely, it means reversing the money flow. “At the end of a working week, an employee hands over money to the company for all the hours that she has toiled. But when she goes to the shops, she is generously compensated at retail rates for every item she carries away.” And Jim Sams does everything in his power to achieve that.
Overall, McEwan’s The Cockroach is a good book to read, whether you have read Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” or not. However, I think that the people who will enjoy this book most are the ones who are familiar with things like Donald Trump and his Twitter account, Brexit, the Me Too movement, et cetera.