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5 February 1981
... 1978 from the short story I had written in 1973. The story had very distinct origins. A mathematician friend from Chile had recently told me of a ‘proof’ for a plane without a surface and had outlined for me the consequences of such a proof being valid. Independently of this, I had been reading Bertrand Russell’s diaries and I wanted to write a story ...
10 May 1990
The Innocent 
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 231 pp., £12.95, May 1990, 0 224 02783 2
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... as we all could be; innocence is no defence, innocence doesn’t stand a chance. A complex variant of this scene haunts Ian McEwan’s fiction, and creates, among other things, an eerie resonance for the mild-seeming title of his remarkable new novel. For McEwan, the innocent is ...

Point of View

Frank Kermode: Atonement by Ian McEwan

4 October 2001
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 372 pp., £16.99, September 2001, 0 224 06252 2
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... Minor resemblances between this novel by Ian McEwan and Henry James’s What Maisie Knew have already been noticed and are of some interest. James left a quite full record of the development of his story, which described modern divorce and adultery from the point of view of a young girl. It had its roots in Solomon’s offer to satisfy rival maternal claimants by cutting the disputed child in half, but it grew far more complicated in the years between the first notebook entry on this topic and the completion of the novel about ‘the partagé child ...

Ways of Being Interesting

Theo Tait: Ian McEwan

10 September 2014
The Children Act 
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 215 pp., £16.99, September 2014, 978 0 224 10199 8
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... For some years,​ I have nursed a modest hope concerning Ian McEwan: that one day he should write a novel without a catastrophic turning point, or a shattering final twist. That for once no one should be involved in a freak ballooning accident, or be brained by a glass table, or be wrongly convicted of a country-house rape; that no one should experience a marriage-ending bout of premature ejaculation, or have their child stolen in a supermarket, or suffer a terrifying home invasion at the hands of a thug with an easily diagnosed neurological condition ...

Evils and Novels

Graham Coster

25 June 1992
Black Dogs 
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 176 pp., £14.99, June 1992, 9780224035729
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... 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 ...

Oh, the Irony

Thomas Jones: Ian McEwan

25 March 2010
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 285 pp., £18.99, 0 224 09049 6
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... In 1997 I went to hear Ian McEwan read from his latest novel, Enduring Love, at a café in a deconsecrated church in Oxford. The passage he chose was the now famous opening chapter, with its vivid and terrible account of a freak ballooning accident in the Chilterns. Much of the figurative vocabulary is drawn from a mathematical or scientific lexicon – ratio, magnitude, geometry, force, angles, equilibrium, gradient, equation, logarithmic complexity, fraction, variable – and at one point the narrator describes ‘the prior moment’ in the following terms: The convergence of six figures in a flat green space has a comforting geometry from the buzzard’s perspective, the knowable, limited plane of the snooker table ...

Dissecting the Body

Colm Tóibín: Ian McEwan

26 April 2007
On Chesil Beach 
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 166 pp., £12.99, April 2007, 978 0 224 08118 4
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... the girlfriend of Edward Mayhew, a nice girl in her early twenties from a nice background in Ian McEwan’s new novel, On Chesil Beach, when ‘one Saturday afternoon in late March, with the rain falling heavily outside the windows . . . she let her hand rest briefly on, or near, his penis.’ What she experienced was ‘a living thing, quite ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: Blurbs and puffs

20 July 2006
... in September, carries an assurance that the novel will appeal to readers of Jonathan Franzen and Ian McEwan. Wow. McEwan’s name has become something of a hallmark: even John Updike can’t have a novel published in London without its being stamped on the cover (‘“The finest novelist writing in English ...
30 April 2009
... In different ways, most of Ian McEwan’s novels and stories are about trauma and contingency, and he is now best known as the great contemporary stager of traumatic contingency as it strikes ordinary lives. In The Child in Time, a child goes missing at a supermarket, and Stephen and Julie’s domestic existence is shattered; in Enduring Love, Clarissa and Joe witness the death of John Logan as he falls from a balloon, are changed for ever, and spend the rest of the novel trying to absorb the consequences of the spectacle; Black Dogs is in part about how Bernard Tremaine, a politician, scientist and rationalist, drifts away from his wife, June (and vice versa), because of what he deems her fanciful, emotional, overdetermined reading of the trauma that was meted out on her in 1946 by the black dogs of the title ...

Draw me a what’s-it cube

Adam Mars-Jones: Ian McEwan

13 September 2012
Sweet Tooth 
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 323 pp., £18.99, August 2012, 978 0 224 09737 6
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... up he vomits on the corpse, a reflex of horror and remorse that amounts to a further assault. Ian McEwan’s first reputation (in the 1970s) was as a writer of scrupulously perverse short stories, an output which placed him in a loose grouping with Martin Amis, labelled the ‘neo-nasties’. The nastiness has long since been disowned though the ...
4 September 1997
Enduring Love 
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 247 pp., £15.99, September 1997, 0 224 05031 1
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... of who she is and what she wants. The walking holiday she and her husband have planned now seems, Ian McEwan says, ‘a pointless detour from her uncertainty’. The phrase is full of trouble, of precise and elusive implications. Uncertainty is a path, a destination, a need. Of course we may not like the thought, and many of us will prefer to see our ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: Evolution versus Metamorphosis

1 September 2005
... brain is the way it is because it evolved to be that way is what you might call a no-brainer. As Ian Hacking said in the last issue of the LRB, quoting Steven Rose quoting Theodosius Dobzhansky, ‘nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.’ Since we use our brains to make up stories, and to make sense of the stories of others, it’s ...
14 June 1990
by Gay Clifford.
188 pp., £14.99, May 1990, 0 241 12976 1
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Selected Poems 1940 – 1989 
by Allen Curnow.
Viking, 209 pp., £15.99, May 1990, 0 670 83007 0
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Collected Poems and Selected Translations 
by Norman Cameron, edited by Warren Hope and Jonathan Barker.
Anvil, 160 pp., £14.95, May 1990, 0 85646 202 0
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Collected Poems 
by Enoch Powell.
Bellew, 198 pp., £9.95, April 1990, 0 947792 36 8
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... a fashion. I suspect that a lot of people spellbound today in the intergalactic gameyness of an Ian McEwan novel feel that, yes, this is the thing – I could do this if I had the idea or the time, or, well, the talent. Good writing in this academic sense is, or seems to be, held in common. ‘Academic’ is a harsh word, implying as it does ...


Frank Kermode

3 December 1981
by Peter Carey.
Faber, 296 pp., £6.50, November 1981, 0 571 11769 4
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Exotic Pleasures 
by Peter Carey.
Picador, 192 pp., £1.95, October 1981, 0 330 26550 4
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... brief blurb are these: ‘astonishing’, ‘fast-moving’, ‘funny’, ‘gripping’, ‘brilliant’, ‘powerful’, ‘important’ and ‘orginal’. These are labels to be stuck on almost any title you want to sell a lot of, and indeed the only original expression is ‘orginal’, an appropriate distortion. The hero is Harry Joy, a cultured ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: Malcolm Gladwell

4 December 2008
... Last month, Ian McEwan announced that we have eight years left to save the planet from global warming. The timeframe seems to be based less on the scientific evidence than on the audacious hope that Obama’s administration will avert the impending environmental catastrophe. McEwan acknowledged that ‘within the climate science community there is a faction darkly murmuring that it is already too late,’ but stood by the ‘majority view’ that doom won’t be certain until Obama leaves the White House ...

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