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McEwan, Ian

novel child book played

(British, 1948– )

Ian McEwan has been at the forefront of English fiction since the mid-1970s. Known mainly as a novelist, he also writes short stories and screenplays. His pared-down style and even delivery maintain a sense of distance, and a McEwan book is typically a novel of ideas, engaging the intellect rather more than the feelings. Often he is concerned with the split between material and spiritual perceptions of life. Enduring Love (1997) tells the story of a happily married and determinedly rationalistic science writer, who falls prey to an obsessive stalker with a mission to bring him to God. The book has tremendous narrative drive and keeps the reader guessing throughout. McEwan is a master of the slow build and leans towards the macabre, a talent used to great effect in his psychological thriller, The Innocent (1990). Leonard Marnham, the innocent abroad in post-war Berlin, is part of a surveillance team involved in the making of the Berlin Tunnel. Falling in love with the enigmatic Maria, he becomes entangled in a chain of events that culminates nightmarishly in the disposal of a body.

At this point backtrack to McEwan's first novel, The Cement Garden (1978), in which four children decide to tell no one and fend for themselves when their reclusive parents die. Less thoughtful than his later books, this is nevertheless powerfully claustrophobic, zooming in on the fine detail of greasy adolescence and the urban wasteland in which the incestuous, fantasy-fuelled roles are played out. Atonement (2001) is an impressive, engrossing, and beautifully controlled novel, split between a comical but troubling pre-war story of class, sex, and false witness played out in an English country house, and a savagely unsparing treatment of Dunkirk and its aftermath in a wartime London hospital. Dominating the novel is the obsessive, self-absorbed child-writer Bryony Tallis, who grows up to learn painfully about the responsibilities of fiction—and to write this novel. McEwan's Amsterdam (1998) won the Booker Prize; The Child in Time (1987), a more likeable and haunting book, about a couple's reaction to the abduction of their child, won the Whitbread award.

Jim Crace, Julian Barnes, Iain Banks.


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