Thread: Ian McEwan
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Old 18th Feb 2005, 9:53   #19
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Join Date: 2 Dec 2004
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Fair comment, John. I must confess I rather regretted zapping up such a ringing endorsement when, after having finished the book and allowed a day or two to pass, the plot niggles wormed their way to the surface in my mind and couldn't be ignored. As I've said over in the Palimp Book Lists, so wonderful was McEwan's prose that those niggles didn't bother me unduly while I was reading and I hastily wrote a review while still in thrall to his fabulous writing. For what it's worth, McEwan puts me in mind of those actors, who while having an abundance of talent, frequently choose the wrong vehicle to showcase it. I'm thinking here of Jeff Bridges, an actor who usually appears in quality films, but is never really given the chance to shine as brightly as I'm sure he could.

For me, McEwan is first and foremost a writer's writer (as are Updike and Richard Yates); but as a story-teller he falls short on too many occasions. But here is where personal prejudice exerts its influence. And I believe most of us have a fair sprinkling of these, which colour our reactions to books and their authors. For my own part, one of my prejudices is this: give me a writer over a story-teller anyday. I can forgive clunking plots and unlikely scenarios - even a dearth of action - but I cannot forgive poor or lack-lustre writing. Of course, one doesn't preclude the other and I'm as delighted as the next (wo)man when I find an author who manages to combine both: great prose hand in hand with great fiction-spinning is for me, the ultimate - the Holy Grail that few manage to secure. Well, I think McEwan achieved that in Atonement - as we are both pretty much agreed, so at least he's proved he has the knack, if not reliably. However, there is something else I very much approve of in McEwan's work, and that is his sincerity. He doesn't show off, he doesn't try to appear cool, adopt that wretched urban chic style of delivery - unlike some - Toby Litt is one I think guilty of such a crime. No - McEwan, I always feel, is giving you his best and leaves the posing to the more insecure and less seasoned scribblers, who may well be enjoying their brief fifteen minutes of fame, but who won't see the distance if they don't put truth first and shun the phony artifice of style over content. Don't get me wrong - great writing, for me, always includes great style, but never at the expense of sincerity. However beautifully something is stated, it must still ring the bell of truth.

Sooooo - I still say, go read Saturday - for the writing, alone, if nothing else. But I really don't think those niggles that have been well-aired by now, are great enough to prevent you enjoying what is still a very accomplished piece of work.
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