In the novelist’s satirical reworking of Kafka’s classic story, an insect wakes up to discover to its horror that it has turned into the prime minister…

• Bill Nighy reads an extract from The Cockroach

That morning, Jim Sams, clever but by no means profound, woke from uneasy dreams to find himself transformed into a gigantic creature. For a good while he remained on his back (not his favourite posture) and regarded his distant feet, his paucity of limbs, with consternation. A mere four, of course, and quite unmovable. His own little brown legs, for which he was already feeling some nostalgia, would have been waving merrily in the air, however hopelessly. He lay still, determined not to panic. An organ, a slab of slippery meat, lay squat and wet in his mouth – revolting, especially when it moved of its own accord to explore the vast cavern of his mouth and, he noted with muted alarm, slide across an immensity of teeth. He stared along the length of his body. His colouring, from shoulders to ankles, was a pale blue, with darker blue piping around his neck and wrists, and white buttons in a vertical line right down his unsegmented thorax. The light breeze that blew intermittently across it, bearing a not unattractive odour of decomposing food and grain alcohol, he accepted as his breath. His vision was unhelpfully narrowed – oh for a compound eye – and everything he saw was oppressively colourful. He was beginning to understand that by a grotesque reversal his vulnerable flesh now lay outside his skeleton, which was therefore wholly invisible to him. What a comfort it would have been to catch a glimpse of that homely nacreous brown.

All this was worrying enough, but as he came more fully awake he remembered that he was on an important, solitary mission, though for the moment he could not recall what it was. I’m going to be late, he thought, as he attempted to lift from the pillow a head that must have weighed as much as five kilos. This is so unfair, he told himself. I don’t deserve this. His fragmentary dreams had been deep and wild, haunted by raucous, echoing voices in constant dissent. Only now, as this head slumped back, did he begin to see through to the far side of sleep and bring to mind a mosaic of memories, impressions and intentions that scattered as he tried to hold them down.

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Read More The Cockroach – an extract from Ian McEwan’s Brexit-inspired novella

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