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Ian McEwan novels


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Ian McEwan is one of Britain's finest writers. His early work was very dark to the extent that he was once dubbed Ian Macabre. He is a rationalist who keeps coming back to questions of faith, perhaps most notably in one of his finest books Enduring Love.

Some of his major works:

  • First Love, Last Rites (1975)
  • In Between the Sheets (1978)
  • The Cement Garden (1978)
  • The Comfort of Strangers (1981, Booker-nominated)
  • The Child in Time (1987)
  • The Innocent (1990)
  • Black Dogs (1992)
  • The Daydreamer
  • Enduring Love (1997)
  • Amsterdam (1998, winner of the Booker Prize, though less deserving than some of his others)
  • Atonement (2001, Booker-nominated)
  • Saturday (2005)
  • On Chesil Beach (2007)

The long gap between Atonement and Saturday is because McEwan felt unable to write anything in the wake of 9/11 yet felt he needed to write about related issues.

Personal favourites are Black Dogs, Enduring Love, Saturday and, topping the pile for me, Atonement. I see Christian has already expressed a preference for Saturday in the thread I've started on the film of Atonement - and with good cause. It's a close-run thing in my view. Atonement is a big-scale story covering many years in the lives of the central characters; Saturday is all about one significant day in the life of one man, so they're hard to compare in some ways.

Focus: The Art and Soul of Cinema now published - www.damaris.org/focus

Damaris: www.damaris.org CultureWatch: www.culturewatch.org Personal site: www.tonywatkins.co.uk

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I hope you won't mind if I respond here, rather than in the other thread.

I don

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Link to the thread on the film version of Enduring Love.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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My copy of McEwan's latest, On Chesil Beach arrived today. Yippee! Now I just need to whizz through the other things I'm reading before I go on holiday at the end of the week.

Focus: The Art and Soul of Cinema now published - www.damaris.org/focus

Damaris: www.damaris.org CultureWatch: www.culturewatch.org Personal site: www.tonywatkins.co.uk

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  • 2 weeks later...

I read On Chesil Beach while I was on holiday last week. It's extremely good - as one expects from McEwan - though not, I feel, reaching the heights of Atonement and Saturday. In many ways the bulk of the novel is the story of just a few hours on a young couple's wedding night on the famous beach in southern England, 1962. But being McEwan, the complex emotions which are at work are examined at length, largely through reflections on their pasts, separately and together. It's that intense focus on people's inner lives that I admire so much with McEwan.

It makes some extremely powerful points about the nature of intimate relationships: the danger of not being open, the tensions that result from misreading others' emotional signals, and more than anything the tragedy of the lack of grace and forgiveness.

Focus: The Art and Soul of Cinema now published - www.damaris.org/focus

Damaris: www.damaris.org CultureWatch: www.culturewatch.org Personal site: www.tonywatkins.co.uk

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I currently have a bunch of assignments reviewing films for CT that have been adapted from books. Gaiman's Stardust, Minot's Evening, and, yes, McEwan's Atonement.

All three books are on my nightstand (alas, sitting atop a project from one of you folks, which I'm determined to read soon), and I need to get through all of them in order to write reviews that take into account the quality of the adaptation.

So... all of that to say, I'll be reading Atonement soon, and I'm looking forward to it.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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So... all of that to say, I'll be reading Atonement soon, and I'm looking forward to it.

ENJOY! I must read it again, but I'm a little fearful of doing so again before watching Joe Wright's version as it will make me even more twitchy about the inevitable changes.

Focus: The Art and Soul of Cinema now published - www.damaris.org/focus

Damaris: www.damaris.org CultureWatch: www.culturewatch.org Personal site: www.tonywatkins.co.uk

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  • 4 weeks later...

An interesting tie-in to McEwan

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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  • 2 weeks later...

I submitted a question about "9/11 books" to a couple of Slate writers, who were discussing Don Delillo's latest, "Falling Man." I mentioned that I love "Saturday," and one of the two Slate writers seconded my recommendation:

Great Books, Va.: I loved, loved, a couple of novels that are about 9/11, explicitly and somewhat obliquely. Those novels are Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, which was wonderfully cathartic, and Ian McEwen's Saturday, which is a lean, mean look at vengeance vs. diplomacy, and how we should react when a violent act is committed against us. As wonderful as the same author's Atonement is

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Ask Ian McEwan a question, courtesy of TIME magazine.

(Try to ignore my own embarrassing submission.)

Funny how many questions center on "Saturday." Maybe that book resonated for others that way it did for me.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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  • 3 weeks later...

I have now read Atonement. While I liked it, I didn't find in it something that would move it to the top of the list of my favorite books.

:spoilers:

To be frank, I found it rather gimmicky--I found the shifting voices as the narrative centered on the respective characters too obvious, as if the author was trying to hard to get the voices to "fit"--of course since we are in effect reading the main character's novelization of her life, then I suppose McEwan, channeling Briony, could have intentionally made the shifts in voice "over-corrected".

The entire novel had a cloying sense about it--the 1999 ending, with Cecilia and Robbie among the war dead, and the past 2/3 of the book a convenient fiction, seemed too frivolous an effort at atonement, and Tallis' musings over her own god-like powers as author too much of a literary aside to really capture the essence of either writing or atonement.

So what am I missing? Am I just a luddite, who can't recognize greatness when its in my own hands? Or is there something to my critique?

Edited by Buckeye Jones
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Buckeye: Truth is, my memory of the novel is somewhat hazy. I hope to revisit it before the film adaptation is released this fall.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I've only read Atonement and Saturday, and am in the Saturday camp. Just loved it. I also picked up On Chesil Beach a couple of days ago. Based on what I've read, McEwan is my favorite middle-aged upper-middle-class white guy writer. I always want to like Johns Updike and Irving more than I do...McEwan does for me what they don't.

Sara Zarr

author, person.

sarazarr.com

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  • 3 weeks later...

I read On Chesil Beach this afternoon. Really more a novella than anything. I thought McEwan did his usual great job of probing the generally unspoken depths of human interaction. It was very sad, or perhaps annoying, depending. What I mean is that I always get annoyed by the storylines of classic opera, or Shakespeare, because usually (okay there is not really a spoiler in here, but I realize some people really really really might not even want to know the general direction of the story, so...) some giant tragedy happens over a simple failure to communicate effectively, or a stupid misunderstanding. And that bugs me. But I guess the point is that DOES happen, and human relationships ARE sometimes destroyed by our inability to get one step far enough past our pride, fear, or hurt to simply extend a word of compassion or forgiveness. Maybe it's that reality that bugs me and not just the fictional representations of it. Anyway, it was a good and fast read.

Edited by Sara Zarr

Sara Zarr

author, person.

sarazarr.com

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Finished "Saturday" last night. Liked it much more than "Atonement". For me, it helped that it stayed with a consistent voice throughout. The op-ed quality of Perowne's musings at times was perhaps a bit too didactic, but on the whole I found it to be an interested contemplation of life in today's times. Is McEwan consistently as interested with narrative and writing throughout his other works as he is in "Atonement" and "Saturday"? Large chunks of both concerned communication, and fiction, and the process of writing (Briony's plays, Grammaticus' insecurities, Daisy's reading list for her father).

Edited by Buckeye Jones
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  • 1 month later...
Is McEwan consistently as interested with narrative and writing throughout his other works as he is in "Atonement" and "Saturday"? Large chunks of both concerned communication, and fiction, and the process of writing (Briony's plays, Grammaticus' insecurities, Daisy's reading list for her father).

Maybe not to the same extent, but he certainly is VERY interested. It's not there in On Chesil Beach except in a sense that we 'hear' the two characters' narratives of their relationship and aspects of their earlier lives. It lurks in the background of Enduring Love: Joe is a science writer and the book is his first-person account of what happened. But this book contains appendices including a scientific paper from a psychology journal describing the case at the centre of the book, which is an interesting combination of genres.

But McEwan is playing a genre trick on us. This paper seems so convincing that many readers assume it is factual, and therefore the story is grounded in truth. I've had some heated discussions with people over this. In fact, it's as fictional as the rest, but is entirely right for someone like Joe to put in his memoirs. The funny thing is that Enduring Love was reviewed in a British psychology journal by a professional who was caught in McEwan's trap. The following issue included letters from two people pointing out the error (look at the authors of the paper - they're an anagram). The following issue had a letter from McEwan owning up to his trick. He says he submitted the paper to a real journal - if they'd published it would have utterly blurred the boundary between fantasy and reality. He comments that he was both relieved and disappointed when they rejected it.

Focus: The Art and Soul of Cinema now published - www.damaris.org/focus

Damaris: www.damaris.org CultureWatch: www.culturewatch.org Personal site: www.tonywatkins.co.uk

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Up in East Machias, Maine, I attended a library book sale, where I stumbled onto a hardcover copy of

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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  • 10 months later...

Reading Saturday now, and really enjoying it. About a third of the way through.

I thought it was interesting that, so far, it's been noted a few times that

Henry Perowne really isn't into fiction. I thought it was interesting that McEwan would choose such a personality to be the center of a fiction work, and then I realized what he was doing. I'm not sure if he uses present tense as much in his other works, because I've not read them, but between the tense and the constant delving into histories, timetables, technical terms, etc., McEwan has crafted a fiction-work for the non-fiction minded. It is a story with a definite time-table, full of fact and actualities and truths rather than fantasies or day dreams. It notices and observes what

is about the characters, rather than what could be.

That said, I'm liking it even more after the realization. Did anyone else think about this? Or perhaps agree with it now?

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Reading Saturday now, and really enjoying it. About a third of the way through.

I thought it was interesting that, so far, it's been noted a few times that

Henry Perowne really isn't into fiction. I thought it was interesting that McEwan would choose such a personality to be the center of a fiction work, and then I realized what he was doing. I'm not sure if he uses present tense as much in his other works, because I've not read them, but between the tense and the constant delving into histories, timetables, technical terms, etc., McEwan has crafted a fiction-work for the non-fiction minded. It is a story with a definite time-table, full of fact and actualities and truths rather than fantasies or day dreams. It notices and observes what

is about the characters, rather than what could be.

That said, I'm liking it even more after the realization. Did anyone else think about this? Or perhaps agree with it now?

Good point. It seemed to me the Dr.'s dislike of fiction also created a tension between his poet father and daughter and musician son. Two very different ways of perceiving the world: scientific materialism versus a mythic/poetic viewpoint. I have know the type of person who has no use for fiction, they do not see a need for narrative that gives meaning to life. The facts are apparently sufficient. I am just the opposite; the facts alone do not satisfy which is why I love fiction so much.

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Timely thread. I'm in the middle of On Chesil Beach and don't know what to make of it. At the risk of sounding like a male pig, I find the woman's plight to be -- at this point in the book -- entirely of her own making. I don't know that McEwan wants us to think otherwise, but I don't agree with summations I've seen of the book that describe it as "tragic." The burden, at this point, appears to be on the female character, and her decisions have struck me as ... well, let's just say I'm not sympathetic. I feel bad for the guy. At this point.

Further thoughts after I finish the novel.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I've not read it yet, but could it perhaps be tragic in the sense that she's chosen things she cannot repair? The Greeks didn't necessarily define tragedy as something that struck all the characters uninvited, but rather the culmination of choices and direction that could not, in a human lifetime, be repaired or ever made the same again.

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I've not read it yet, but could it perhaps be tragic in the sense that she's chosen things she cannot repair? The Greeks didn't necessarily define tragedy as something that struck all the characters uninvited, but rather the culmination of choices and direction that could not, in a human lifetime, be repaired or ever made the same again.

The second half of the book, which tells of how the characters met and all the led up their wedding night, is more interesting than the detailed (but accurate -- maybe TOO accurate) description of thoughts and body parts as the couple prepare to consummate their marriage.

Curiously, McEwan, in an interview that concludes the audiobook, suggests a very clear reason for the girl's unwillingness to have sex, but he says he removed it because it was too easy, too direct. I would have preferred it; it would have made the first half of the novel less infuriating. He mentions that it's still alluded to in the novel, but I must have missed that. As closely as I try to listen to audiobooks while I'm driving, I do miss things.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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