Sunday, July 22, 2007

Ian McEwan

Part of my tension, I think, is the fact that I have not been reading much. As I mentioned--I'm deep in the doldrums (to steal a metaphor) of Moby Dick and a stubbornness on my part keeps me from simply putting it down and picking up something else. Normally I'll read two novels a week.

Back in the late spring I did put down MD long enough to read On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan because it was very short. At the time it had not come out in America, but it has by now, and everyone and their brother has reviewed it.

I was trying to remember if I found McEwan on my own, or if i found him in college. I know that I read Black Dogs in a class which was called "European Literature after the war," but the Professor admitted was really just a list of April Bernard's favorite authors. We read Calvino, Kundera, Highsmith and Muriel Spark. And Ian McEwan. I've always liked McEwan, but I believe he's becoming a better author as he goes along and I was trying to figure out why I think that. I went back and looked at Black Dogs. All of McEwan's books are about the impact of violence, both personal and political, both emotional and physical. I could say that he has learned to make us care about his characters more--but one does not like Ripley in Highsmith's books, but one cares about him in a strange way. (Having read April's own novel, Pirate Jenny, I did not like her protagonist either, but I liked the book.)

This book is a minute snapshot of a marriage or rather a wedding night gone wrong, in a time, as he reminds us when a wedding night still had weight and some apprehension.

What I have not found in any review is a discussion of the violence which may or may not have happened to the bride at some earlier point, and I can't decide if I've imagined it. My husband, who read it at my insistence after I finished, felt it was there, but very, very subtly.

What one always goes to McEwan for is sentences like this:
I do not know if this was actually the case or not, but in memory each of my few visits to her in the nursing home in the spring and summer of 1987 took place on days of rain and high wind. Perhaps there was only once such day, and it has blown itself across the others. [italics are mine].

That's from Black Dogs and I found it again (to Mirror XP) because I had underlined it the first time round.

I cannot now find the phrases that I wanted from On Chesil Beach because it was a hardback and my husband paid for it and so I did not annotate.

Quotes from it have abounded in the reviews--the capturing of a time in Britain after WWII and before Profumo and boiling it all down into these two lovers is McEwan's genius. What I do dislike is the reviewers repeated comments that these were two people who "got married for all the wrong reasons." I think they wanted to get married for all the right reasons--they loved, they liked. They knew the other well enough, but they did not know themselves--and as in life, that is the tragedy.

(Now I can put away the McEwans which have been lingering in my to deal with pile.)

1 comment:

musing said...

The only book I've read by McEwan is Atonement, which I enjoyed very much. What would you recommend I read next?