Ian McEwan, once the bête noir of English fiction with dark novels of sadism and sex, has become a prolific and highly respected author, responding to key political moments, like Margaret Thatcher’s education policies in The Child in Time, the Iraq war as the result of 9/11 in Saturday and Brexit in The Cockroach. He is an author fascinated by science, which is central to Enduring Love, while the central character of Saturday is a brain surgeon and Solar tackles global warming. In a number of his novels, particularly Atonement, he plays around with the very notion of fiction.
This week he has published his latest novel, Lessons, which charts the life of a man from childhood to old age and in doing so reflects on a number of key historical events, though several reviews have suggested that the way McEwan deals with these is rather heavy handed, referred to as ‘unnecessary historical context’ or ‘like someone constantly checking their watch’ for the right time reference. It’s a novel that muses on many of McEwan’s traditional concerns and many aspects of the hero Roland’s life bear a marked similarity to McEwan’s own. As it is McEwan, the novel will attract a lot of attention, though reviews have been mixed. As well as those already linked, here’s a favourable one, while this one is less certain about the novel’s qualities.
Read the Atonement page on this site.
In other publishing news, Maggie O’Farrell has also put another book on the shelves. We commented on Hamnet when that was published and the latest delves into history and literature again. The Marriage Portrait takes as its inspiration Robert Browning’s poem ‘My Last Duchess’. In that exquisite dramatic monologue, the Duke of Ferrara smoothly intimates that he has had his last wife killed because she did not fit his ideal of a compliant, grateful woman. O’Farrell’s novel takes the story of Lucrezia de’Medici, who was married to the Duke of Ferrara at 13 and supposedly died from disease, though rumours abounded. Rather than the silent smiling portrait of a now dead woman in Browning’s poem, O’Farrell’s third person narration focalises Lucrezia’s perspective, creating the female point of view. Read about it here.
While we recommend books on this blog, we cannot challenge the immediacy of TikTok. Perhaps you are already a follower, but BookTok is making waves and the publishing world is having to react. From Instagram poets to BookTok reviews, literature is keeping up with the social media trends.