Evils and Novels

Graham Coster

  • Black Dogs by Ian McEwan
    Cape, 176 pp, £14.99, June 1992, ISBN 0 224 03572 X

As Penguin rescues the novels of Angus Wilson from out-of-print obscurity, here is an excuse to recall the argument of his most important work of literary criticism, the essay ‘Evil in the English Novel’. ‘For some time,’ he wrote in the Listener back in 1962, ‘I have been concerned about what is happening to the contemporary English novel ... I have been led to suppose that one of the troubles is that we are too much concerned with right and wrong, and not enough with evil.’ Contemporaneous with Wilson’s new canonisation is the showing in London of Merchant-Ivory’s film adaptation of E.M Forster’s Howard’s End, and a new novel from Ian McEwan. To a reader of First Love, Last Rites or In Between the Sheets it will seem an odd conjunction. Nevertheless, it is to Wilson’s implicit prescription that McEwan’s novels seem increasingly to answer, and in Black Dogs both the manner in which evil enters and determines his story, and the landscape he creates to summon and accommodate it, look soberly Forsterian.

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