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Old 17th Apr 2010, 10:18   #411
jim
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Default Re: Ian McEwan

Well that NY Times just about sums up my feelings. An exquisite bore indeed. I can't help feeling that McEwan needs to give a little more thought to the tale rather than the telling of it. I also agree with the David Lodge comparison made somewhere else. It is a little like Lodge but with all the rough edges taken off and most of the charm lost. Impressive but hard to love.
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Old 18th Jul 2010, 9:30   #412
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Really enjoyed 'Solar' and have read most of McEwan's novels. This was the first that was quite deliberately comic but strangely dealing with a very serious topic. It's really quite a strange mixture with almost elements of farce about it which I cannot really explain in too much detail in case it spoils it for others who have not yead read it. However, the incident on the train is extremely funny as the follow up to it at the meeting Michael Beard speaks at. Beard is actually quite an unpleasant character but at the same time has endearing human failings and incredible good fortune. Not realistic? Well, how often is there speculation about how is it possible for people to love and be attracted to the most outrageous of individuals and be clearly blind to their faults?
'Solar' held me throughout and I would say that it stands a good chance of Booker longlisting. Met McEwan at a signing recently and said I hoped this for the book. If I read his answer right he seemed to hope this too but said somewhat cautiously that 'a book has a life outside such things'. We shall see.
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Old 21st Sep 2011, 5:31   #413
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Default Re: Ian McEwan

Some books justify themselves and even their flaws in every line. Some books only justify themselves in the end. Ian McEwan gambles that a story which cannot be justified, even in the end, can still make a great novel. I think he may be right! While I have some reservations about the new aesthetic, in general, I think McEwan’s Atonement (2001) is a truly remarkable book. Even if you know the basic - simple - plot, it is a book you will have to read to the end to fathom. The quality of the prose, generally, makes this easy enough. But the quality and cleverness of its design makes this a surprising, even an amazing, book. It is also a book very difficult to describe or say much about without spoiling the experience for new readers, but (confining myself to deserving matters of style) I will try. Unfortunately, for me, mentioning some of the most impressive aspects of the book would ruin it for others; so this review is necessarily incomplete.

First and foremost, I think, Atonement is an extraordinary character study of Briony Tallis, a young upper-middle-class, literary ingĂ©nue, whose moral failure at age thirteen, in 1935, has dire consequences for Robbie Turner – the son of the Tallis household maid, and lover of Briony’s older sister, Cecelia. How, or even whether, Briony can atone for her youthful crime, is the element of suspense that keeps us engrossed and pushes the narrative forward. It works. For certain, it is a highly suspenseful book, the twists and turns of which are thoroughly integral, not only to the plot, but to the structure, and also to the very style of presentation. Mostly, however, it is the psychology of this precocious child that is intriguing.

Of course, suspense is common in novels; without it we mostly wouldn’t bother, but McEwan distinguishes himself in this: Instead of the unlikely or improbable revelations and reversals of high melodrama, he develops the story by refreshingly subtle, sometimes surprising, and always believable motives and occasions for action. His attention to the details of how things actually work - psychologically and socially - provides him opportunities for revealing character, setting up scenes and developments, and echoing larger themes of the story all at once. (Examples abound: Briony's resentful treatment of Lola and the twins, Emily's vigil by the phone, and Cecelia's dressing room ordeal before the dinner, are all representative of a great talent.) The narrative flow from scene to scene, and character interactions were an especial pleasure. I often found myself marveling at an earlier detail fulfilling itself as a crucial consequence in the plot and thinking, yes, that’s how such things do happen! This talent goes a long way to securing credibility in a melodrama; and Atonement is, unabashedly, I think – we might even say deliberately - a melodrama.

Throughout the novel we are challenged, of course, to judge this young woman, this girl, this nurse, this would-be writer, by her actions, as they are informed by her intentions. And she admits her guilt. Only a very clever master could make this simple moral arithmetic a matter of profound consideration, but Ian McEwan has done that! For, Atonement is also a meditation on the hazard of gullibility. (To say more, here, about this very important point certainly would spoil the book for others. Damn!)

The story is told in three books: Book I revolves around a fateful night of homecoming and intended celebrations on the Tallis Estate in the summer of 1935; Book II takes us to the battle fields of northern France just after the outbreak of World War II, during the retreat of British forces to Dunkirk. And Book III takes us back to London, just after the emergency boat lift ('the miracle at Dunkirk"), to the hospital where Briony, now 18, in 1940, is a probationary nurse, preparing with the staff for the expected German invasion and the unexpected deluge of Dunkirk evacuees. These two sections (II and III) work surprisingly well, seamlessly really, to convey Briony’s sense of the enormity of her earlier moral failure –her sin. As I mentioned early on, there is, for us, a terrible sense of urgency about the issue of how, or even whether, she can atone for this failure, which is only heightened by the grim realities of the British retreat, of which Robbie is a part. The hospital scenes allow yet another level of realistic development and perspective on the moral crisis and Briony's evolving character.

The depiction of this theme, the tragedy at Dunkirk and the hospital nurses’ first encounter with the horrors of war, is as brilliant and well executed an example of war story narration as anything I have read in a long while. In these sections (Books II and III) especially, there is a level of feeling and identification that is as surprising as it is almost palpable. The writing is just great(!), even while we wonder . . .

In spite of some occasional but obvious editorializing, some over-writing of passages and a mock-heroic tone in Book I that was initially very off-putting, I would still say Atonement is a tightly controlled work of Art. With elements of suburban idyll, class-based historical melodrama, and gritty war time realism, it risks a lot on this stylistic chowder and wins the bet. McEwan makes the various modes of narration serve the basic story of Briony's idea of, and attempt at, redemption(?). Though there is a definite confusion of "voices" at various points in the course of the narrative - especially near the beginning - I would encourage readers to go on, to suspend disbelief a little longer than they might otherwise deem wise or acceptable. (This is the new aesthetic, after all.) The narrative equivocation is an intentional device, I think, and the ultimate payoff is worth the indulgence, even while we wonder . . .
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Old 11th Jul 2015, 17:03   #414
Ang
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Default Re: Ian McEwan

The Children Act - has anyone else read it?

McEwan seems to want to make sure we know he knows a lot of places in London.

I think it's the first McEwan I've only awarded

Not poo, by any means, but sooo much explanation of place that just didn't seem necessary. Without it though, it would have been a very short book!
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Old 29th Jul 2015, 19:09   #415
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Default Re: Ian McEwan

I just finished it and gave it three stars as well. I found the central case intriguing as this is a common ethical dilemma in the clinical setting. I was also interested in the relationship that developed, which was very McEwan. Unfortunately, could not get invested in any other aspect of her personal life at all and frankly didn't much care what happened with that. I still enjoyed the writing, but I am partial to McEwan and would read anything he writes.
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