The New Republic - Lionel Shriver What happens when a clutch of journalists is left in a remote posting with nothing to report? Might some of them be tempted to fabricate news or massage the truth to keep the paychecks coming and avoid being called home? The New Republic is set on a fictional peninsula called Barba that is trying to gain independence from Portugal. Terrorist attacks all over the world have been claimed by the Soldiers of Barba, or "SOB." Barba residents are angry at the tide of Muslim immigrants flooding their territory. The terrorist attacks seem to have stopped, and journalists assigned to Barba have little to do but gather at the local watering hole and snipe at each other. Their favorite topic is the mysterious disappearance of fellow hack Barrington Saddler, a man of limitless animal magnetism. When rookie reporter Edgar Kellogg is sent to replace Saddler, he feels overshadowed by the legend of yet another man he could never be. All his life Edgar has been the also-ran, the sidekick, the guy who never quite had the goods. With a little imagination and a lot of stupidity, Edgar manages to outdo Saddler in sheer audacity and self-serving behavior, slipping into the self-delusion that often accompanies great success at others' expense. The book's great strength is the way it raises questions about media coverage of volatile situations. How does the mere presence of reporters influence the behavior of those being reported upon? Does media coverage cause events rather than just observing them? And what part does self-interest play in the way journalists spin their stories? Aside from this one trenchant theme, the plot contains a lot of devices and weaker themes serving mostly to distract or irritate. A tightening up of the manuscript would have been helpful, cutting away extraneous material to let the strengths shine more brightly.The New Republic will find an appreciative audience among fans of farcical fiction. Readers who are easily offended should tiptoe around this one. While I was not offended, neither was I much amused. A lot of the intended humor has a "nudge, nudge, wink, wink" kind of cleverness that doesn't quite let us in on the joke. In fairness, I have to say I did get some good laughs from a few of the word plays. The way the book ends left me puzzling over whether the author was subtly condoning unethical behavior. And finally, I have to question the tastefulness of turning terrorism into comedy, regardless of how many years have passed since the tragedies of 9/11. 2.5 stars