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Old 5th Feb 2009, 21:52   #1
Ang
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Default Book 58: BLACK DOGS by Ian McEwan

Who's joining in?
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Old 6th Feb 2009, 0:12   #2
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Default Re: Book 58: Black Dogs, Ian McEwan

I promise to definitely join in - I will put Tess... on hold (and ruddy Daniel Dennett - what a laugh Breaking the Spell is!)
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Old 6th Feb 2009, 4:05   #3
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Default Re: Book 58: Black Dogs, Ian McEwan

Yes, forgot about this. Perfect timing to mix with the short story collection I'm enjoying. Will pick it up this weekend.
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Old 6th Feb 2009, 7:20   #4
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Default Re: Book 58: Black Dogs, Ian McEwan

It has one of the best first sentences I've seen:
Quote:
Ever since I lost mine in a road accident when I was eight, I have had my eye on other people's parents.
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Old 8th Feb 2009, 8:55   #5
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Default Re: Book 58: Black Dogs, Ian McEwan

Back when this was written, in 1992, McEwan might not yet have been known for the making a story around the turning point of a person's life. He writes about it in this book, though:
Quote:
Originally Posted by p.50
Turning-points are the inventions of story-tellers and dramatists, a necessary mechanism when a life is reduced to, traduced by, a plot, when a morality must be distilled from a sequence of actions, when an audience must be sent home with something unforgettable to mark a character's growth.
Unlike his later books, the turning point in Black Dogs, the story of the black dogs themselves, is only hinted at until the last section, where "the story" is told.

Throughout, we know we're going to be confronted with a story which is going to be unpleasant, and there are going to be multiple ways to interpret it. Though the story is held back, we get the interpretations, voiced through the narrator's mother-in-law and father-in-law.

As a staunch atheist, I found myself expecting to agree completely with the view of the father-in-law Bernard. At the end though, instead, I have a certain sympathy for his wife's point of view:
Quote:
Originally Posted by p. 172
Human nature, the human heart, the spirit, the soul, consciousness itself - call it what you like - in the end, it's all we've got to work with. It has to develop and expand, or the sum of our misery will never diminish. My own small discovery has been that this change is possible, it is within our power. Without a revolution of the inner life, however slow, all our designs are worthless. The work we have to do is with ourselves if we're ever going to be at peace with each other. I'm not saying it will happen. There's a good chance it won't. I'm saying it's our only chance. If it does, and it could take generations, the good that flows from it will shape our societies in an unprogrammed, unforeseen way, under the control of no single group of people or set of ideas . . .'
With the state of play in the world today, it's hard to argue with that. What political party, or set of ideas, is right?
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Last edited by Ang; 10th Feb 2009 at 12:49. Reason: typo
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Old 8th Feb 2009, 16:30   #6
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Default Re: Book 58: Black Dogs, Ian McEwan

Looking forward to this as soon as the interlibrary loan gets here. The library has such a large number of McEwan titles; I was sure this was among them. Plus, I see it's only 172 pages! That's a great quote from that last page, very enticing.
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Old 8th Feb 2009, 16:43   #7
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Default Re: Book 58: Black Dogs, Ian McEwan

It's not quite the last page, but it's very close. The last page is very good too.
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Old 10th Feb 2009, 11:02   #8
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Default Re: Book 58: Black Dogs, Ian McEwan

I was a little disappointed re-reading Black Dogs. It must be a good ten years since I'd last looked at it and I found my memories were almost all confused and misrepresentative of the book's narrative. Last time around the most vivid scenes of the book were the 'black dogs' experience and the sequence where Jeremy visits the cottage in France and has a terrifying moment in the dark, a premonition of evil present, which naturally coincides in my copy with a page-turn. I recalled it as a terrifying moment to read, frightening enough first time round to be afraid to turn the page and Jeremy to fumble for the light-switch and discover what has been with him in the dark. This time the impact had lessened, though the 'black dogs' moment had increased in potency.

But the rest of the book? A confused wander between narratives: Jeremy's own life and orphan's need for inclusion in other's families; the vaguely political backdrop of communist party membership and the fall of the Berlin Wall, evoking considerations of what actually is evil and how long is the leash on which it strains to be free. Alongside these themes is the exploration of Jeremy's parents-in-law's marriage and foundering relationship but it seemed to take well over half the book to establish the characters and even then, not fully rounded. McEwan seemed only to tell us aspects about them which were the ones he wanted to deal with: Bernard's positivist scientific rationalism when set against June's sudden discovery of something beyond and more than the rational, and her subsequent searching and self-discovery (and peace) amongst matters of faith and religion. That's an interesting relationship to explore but I felt it was barely touched on, and we approached it second-hand through Jeremy's examination of his in-laws' lives in a planned memoir.

There wasn't enough of Black Dogs to fill out some of the ideas it had, or fully realise the characters (or make them interesting, to be honest), and there was too much of the I-once-had-a-holiday descriptors of regions of France that mean little to readers who've never been there. There were the trademark McEwan-isms of a pivotal incident, of a certain kind of danger in unfamiliar foreign climes (like The Comfort of Strangers), the reflection upon world events that impinge on and form the personal and community histories that come afterwards; but it just wasn't joined-up enough and drifted from flashback to present day, from country to country, with only the vaguest of purposes.

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Old 10th Feb 2009, 12:11   #9
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Default Re: Book 58: BLACK DOGS by Ian McEwan

I'm just ordering three McEwan novels from Amazon, Ang. I think I owe Palimpsest some book-chat.

It's nice to know that the familiar McEwan Pivotal Moment TM is present and correct in this novel too. I wonder if you could express its effect and use in the same way that Henri Cartier Bresson speaks of the Decisive Moment in photography?:

Quote:
the decisive moment, it is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as the precise organization of forms which gives that event its proper expression.


So, not quite a Pivotal Moment, but a sort of tableau - a snapshot of a particular moment - that when expressed/examined aright gives what comes before and afterwards its proportion and signficance.
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Old 10th Feb 2009, 12:32   #10
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Default Re: Book 58: BLACK DOGS by Ian McEwan

Yes, that's an accurate description of it, but I think there is something more directive about it, more focused: that it had to be *that* moment rather than any other random 'road taken' that releases the outcomes that ensue. Of which you could say "after it, nothing was ever the same" - which you couldn't say of a moment when you chose to go to Sainsbury's rather than Tesco's to do your shopping.
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