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In this survey, Ian McEwan emerges as one of those rare writers whose works have received both popular and critical acclaim. His novels grace the bestseller lists, and he is well regarded by critics, both as a stylist and as a serious thinker about the function and capacities of narrative fiction. McEwan's novels treat issues that are central to our times: politics, and the promotion of vested interests; male violence and the problem of gender relations; science and the limits of rationality; nature and ecology; love and innocence; and the quest for an ethical worldview. Yet he is also an economical stylist: McEwan's readers are called upon to attend, not just to the grand themes, but also to the precision of his spare writing. Although McEwan's later works are more overtly political, more humane, and more ostentatiously literary than the early work, this book uncovers the continuity as well as the sense of evolution through the oeuvre. It makes the case for McEwan's prominence—pre-eminence, even—in the canon of contemporary British novelists.
This volume analyzes the works of British novelist Ian McEwan. It considers the problematic claim that McEwan is possibly the most significant of a number of writers who have resuscitated the link between morality and the novel for a whole generation, in ways that befit the historical pressures of their time. Some of McEwan's works reviewed in this volume include The Cement Garden, The Comfort of Strangers and The Child in Time.
This chapter analyzes the literature of shock embodied in Ian McEwan's novel The Cement Garden. It suggests that the cement garden is a clear metaphor for the urban desolation of the character of Jack and his siblings. This chapter also contends that situation of the protagonists in the novel has a parallel in the situation of the novelist and argues that the significant stylistic feature between the character and author is McEwan's response not just to the anomie of contemporary society, but also to the novelistic tradition into which he is writing himself.
This chapter examines Ian McEwan's novel The Comfort of Strangers and his screenplay for the film The Imitation Game. It explains that the film is McEwan's first explicit engagement of feminism and it is most notable for enacting a dialogue between two overlapping strands of feminism: the emergent feminism of the wartime era, viewed through the lens of 1970s feminism. The novel addresses the problematic relationship between values, ideas and literature and it shows that the author is unable, as yet, to generate vital social resonances through the medium of fiction. This work is perhaps his most disturbing book, with its emphasis on violence and psychosis.
This chapter analyzes Ian McEwan's The Child in Time, his first fiction to be clearly longer than novella length and his first sustained attempt at a social novel. It suggests that this work can be considered a ‘Condition of England novel’ in some respects because of its projection of a fourth or fifth-term Thatcherite government becoming increasingly authoritarian. This chapter also discusses McEwan's sources in popular science to show how a post-Einsteinian conception of the plasticity of time and space allows the central character to intervene in the past and guarantee his own future.
This chapter examines Ian McEwan's novels The Innocent and Black Dogs which represent a significant phase of political writing. In both works, the private-public nexus is extended in different ways and they both engage with international politics, and particularly with the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. The binary oppositions that order the works at the levels of argument, or ideas, are systematically and purposively unravelled.
This chapter analyzes Ian McEwan's testing of scientific rationalism in his novel Enduring Love. Underpinning this testing of character is McEwan's larger literary project, to consider the function of the novel when set against the claims of post-Darwinian science about the evolutionary basis of morality and judgement. This novel implicitly stages a contest of the relative merits of science and literature, as a careful fusion of form and content, contained within a suspense novel. It also shows humanity to be at a stage of evolution and/or social complexity that puts us out of the evolutionary loop, and that demands of us an ethical sense that addresses the problem of self-interest with acute self-consciousness.
This chapter examines Ian McEwan's ‘Amsterdam’, a Booker Prize-winning novella. It explains that this novel was considered as an inferior Booker winner and reappraises it as an accomplished satirical novella. This social satire is conducted through the portraits of the characters of newspaper editor Vernon Halliday and composer Clive Linley, projected as representative of the professional achievers of the Thatcher-Major era. This satire is not consistent in its comic effects and it bleeds out into the contemporary world of literary culture, the culture of which this smartly composed novella is a self-conscious product.
This chapter analyzes Ian McEwan's Atonement as the creative equivalent or counterpart of narrative ethics. The theme of guilt and atonement is inextricably linked to an investigation of the writer's authority, a process of self-critique conducted through the creation of the writing persona Briony Tallis. This novel establishes a position that represents a mid-ground between the privileging of the autonomous speaking subject and the dissolution of self into larger social and linguistic codes and it evokes a strong sense of lived experience that is morally moving, and yet insists on the constructed nature of fiction and the morally dubious authority wielded by the writer.
This chapter examines the character and circumstance in Ian McEwan's novel Saturday. It shows that this novel's treatment of the competing claims of literature and medicine is more thoroughgoing than Atonement, even though still more extravagant claims for the literary are pressed, and also questioned. This novel implies a new form of social accountability in the light of advances in genetic science and considers a new model of responsibility.