Cockroach by Rawi Hage
Another finalist for the 2008 Giller Prize. Apparently Hage’s previous novel won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the most lucrative literature prize with the worst name currently awarded, so this second novel must have a lot to live up to. It also, obviously, has to live up to Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. I haven’t read either, so my foray into this novel is definitely undereducated. Keep that in mind while I summarize it as half sharp and staticky character sketch, half sticky and tacked-on revenge plot.
This book takes place during a bitterly cold winter in Montreal’s restless immigrant community, where a self-confessed “thief” has just tried and failed to commit suicide by hanging himself from a tree in a local park. Rescued against his will, the narrator is obliged to attend sessions with a well-intentioned but naive therapist. This sets the story in motion, leading us back into the narrator’s childhood in a war-torn country, forward into his current life in the smoky émigré cafes where everyone has a tale to tell, and out into the frozen streets of the city after dark, where the thief survives on the edge, imagining himself to be a cockroach invading the lives of the privileged, but wilfully blind, citizens around him.