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Playing with fire: Rioting brought rewards in Northern Ireland 

It is the late 1990s, and Lionel Shriver's tyro journalist, Edgar Kellogg, is sent to southern Portugal, to the (fictional) province of Barba, which along with "Bosnia, Angola, Algeria, and Azerbaijan" was one of the "too-complicated and who-gives-a-fuck shit holes" about which he normally avoided reading.  

Barba is of interest to the world solely because of various atrocities claimed by its "sorry-ass crackpots", the Soldastsies Ozhatsies (aka the SOBs), and justified by their political wing, "O Crème de Barbear" (aka the Creamies), who are demanding independence. Barba is an amusingly disguised Northern Ireland, where, in the 1980s, Shriver and I became good friends, not least because of our pleasure in discovering that — despite our different backgrounds (American ex-Presbyterian and southern Irish ex-Catholic) — neither of us was taken in by terrorist apologetics. We despised Provo propaganda, which, like that of the Creamies, was "incessant, it never varies except in decibel level, and subjection to enough of it turns you into a moron," and Gerry Adams, whose Creamie equivalent, Tomás Verdade, is a "stultifying...verbose demagogue", who "without wink-wink paramilitary connections" is "a no-account leader of a third-string political party in the back of beyond".   

As her nearest and dearest know all too well, there is no escaping the gimlet that is the often misanthropic eye of Lionel Shriver: being family, lover, friend or colleague offers no sanctuary. So, though some of her best friends are journalists, anyone who has ever been part of "a core hack pack" in a strange place hoping guiltily for something to happen will find plenty to squirm at here. They are dependent on "a steady stream of visiting journalists whom regulars could show up, lure capriciously to bed, ply slyly with their first Choques [disgusting local beer], and poke fun at once they left". These newcomers "varied in their political predispositions, from burn-'em-at-the-stake authoritarians to liberal hankie-twisters frantic to understand, but their ignorance was universal". Panic sets in when a drought of SOB operations threatens: "Reuters just emailed that they'll close the bureau in three months if nothing blows up."

Shriver describes thus the problems of on-the-spot reportage: "One mustachioed hothead stuttered in a mix of English and Portuguese that over a hundred illegal immigrants had been rounded up for deportation that afternoon. His friend asserted that the numbers were much higher — two hundred, three! A third claimed that five Moroccans had been killed, while his companion said more like twelve; the number of officers in the Brigada Encarnada slain in retaliation numbered either zero, three, or twenty-seven. Great. More ‘eyewitnesses'."

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Chris Roberts
April 27th, 2012
2:04 PM
Lionel Shriver, All shot to hell, It's Conrad's story, You try to sell...Barba is on fire, Barrington Saddler has retired, Or has he, is he playing guide, To Edgar Kellogg, "Saddle up fatso, let's ride! The land is barren, A poor woman's McCarthy scape, The SOB's can't help, But to ape and ape, It really isn't that funny, When you lay down the money and what you get is four-hundred pages of what you don't get, A storyline done, Weary journalists under the gun, And really, really, truly, this novel proves, there is nothing new under the sun.

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