Ian McEwan


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Showing 1 - 9 of 9 annotations associated with McEwan, Ian

The Children Act

McEwan, Ian

Last Updated: Aug-09-2016
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Approaching age 60 and childless, Fiona Maye is a family court judge who must decide if 17 year-old Adam has the right to refuse blood transfusions for his leukemia. He and his parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The Children Act does not allow a child to make this decision until age 18. Fiona is an atheist and her 35-year marriage to an academic is falling apart.  She takes the extraordinary step of visiting Adam to know him and understand his conviction. He is beautiful and gifted, he writes poetry and plays violin. Why would he not want to try to live? She makes her decision having no idea if it will be morally, legally or medically right. To say more would spoil it.

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On Chesil Beach

McEwan, Ian

Last Updated: Mar-15-2008
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In summer 1962, virgins Edward Mayhew and Florence Ponting take their wedding supper in a hotel suite overlooking stony Chesil Beach on the Dorset coast. Married that afternoon, each is thinking of the bed in the next room. With only a little experience, Edward has waited patiently, but looks forward, enthusiasm mingled with apprehension over his performance. Florence however is revolted and even frightened by the thought of sex, but she does not dare to reveal her fears. They are both embarrassed by the hovering staff, and eventually leave the meal unfinished.

They proceed to the bed. Florence takes the lead which pleases and surprises Edward, but he does not know that she is doing so bravely, to confront the inevitable and get it over with. Their individual thoughts forward and backward through time rehearse their meeting, their love, and the awkward encounters with parents.

It does not go well. Florence races out of the room onto the darkened beach. Edward follows her and they try to talk. She suggests a celibate marriage. He is humiliated and angry. She walks away and he does not call her back. The marriage is annulled and in the last few pages, their lives race by--hers to musical success, his with only one regret.

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The Diagnosis

McEwan, Ian

Last Updated: Oct-04-2005
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A neurosurgeon looks forward to having a day off from work, but a promising Saturday brings only trouble. Henry Perowne is 48 years old and practices in London. Lately, he's concerned about the impending invasion of Iraq. Perowne's views on the situation have changed considerably after conversations with a patient who was tortured and imprisoned in Iraq for no apparent reason. A protest march against the looming war is held on Saturday.

On his way to play a game of squash that morning, Perowne is involved in a car accident on an otherwise deserted street. No one is injured and the two vehicles sustain only minor damage. The owner of the other car is a man in his twenties named Baxter. He is accompanied by two buddies. Perowne refuses Baxter's demand for cash to repair the car so Baxter punches the doctor. Perowne is moments away from a pummeling.

He notices that Baxter has a tremor and an inability to perform saccades. Perowne deduces that Baxter has Huntington's disease. The doctor capitalizes on the fortuitous diagnosis. He speculates that Baxter has kept the neurodegenerative disorder a secret from his sidekicks. When Perowne initiates a discussion about the illness, Baxter orders the cronies away so that he can speak privately to the doctor. The two men desert Baxter, and Perowne escapes in his car, hopeful he can still make the squash game.

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Saturday

McEwan, Ian

Last Updated: Sep-13-2005
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This novel spans one day in the life of a London neurosurgeon, Henry Perowne. It is set on a specific day, Saturday, February 15, 2003, when mass demonstrations were held in London protesting the coming war on Iraq. This actual historical and geographical context colors the fictional narrative, told entirely from the point of view of Perowne, who wakes in the early hours of the morning to see a burning aircraft descending towards Heathrow. Although this turns out not to be a terrorist attack, as Perowne at first fears, it sets up the book's atmosphere of foreboding and the powerful contrast between dangerous world events and Perowne's essentially happy family.

The Perownes are all talented and successful and fond of each other. Henry's wife, Rosalind, is a media lawyer; their son, Theo, a blues guitarist; and their daughter, Daisy, a published poet. This Saturday's highlight is to be a family dinner, where it is expected that Daisy and her grandfather, John Grammaticus, a famous poet, will reconcile after an argument.

Henry is on the way to his morning squash game when he is involved in a minor car accident with a dubious character named Baxter. He escapes theft and a beating by realizing that Baxter suffers from Huntington's Disease. He tells Baxter the diagnosis and offers hope of a non-existent treatment, shifting the power base of the encounter from brawn to brain and humiliating Baxter in front of his cronies. (This part of the novel was published in the New Yorker as a short story, The Diagnosis. See the annotation in this database for a more detailed account.)

Henry then plays an aggressive game of squash with Jay Strauss, his American colleague, and they discuss the Middle East and the impending war. He buys seafood at the market for the evening's dinner, and he goes to the nursing home to visit his mother, Lily, who has multiple-infarct dementia. He listens to his son's band, goes home and cooks dinner. He argues with Daisy, his daughter, just come from the protest march, about the coming war.

When the family is gathered for dinner, Rosalind returns from work and Baxter and his henchmen force their way into the house. They threaten Rosalind with a knife, break Grammaticus's nose, and force Daisy to strip, at which point Perowne realizes his daughter is pregnant. Then Daisy recites poetry--Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach"--and, unlikely as it is, the effect of the poem is to distract Baxter enough that Perowne is able to lure him upstairs with the promise of more information on treating Huntington's, and he and Theo then throw Baxter down the stairs. Baxter is taken away in an ambulance, and later Perowne is called in to operate on his brain. The novel ends with Perowne back in bed with his wife.

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Pornography

McEwan, Ian

Last Updated: Jul-26-2004
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A classic heterosexual triangle between an inordinately selfish young rake, O'Byrne (who helps his equally disgusting brother run a pornography book shop in London--thus the title of the short story) and two women: Lucy, a nurse, and Pauline, a nursing trainee. (The "Sister" used to refer to Lucy is a British term for nurse and does not mean she is a religious. See my review of John Patrick's The Hasty Heart, in this database).

O'Bryne has "the clap" (gonorrhea), yet cavalierly, even maliciously, continues his sexual relationships with both women, who do not (at the beginning of the story) know of each other's existence. When they learn of his affliction, his infidelity and his uncaring infliction of "the clap" on them, they begin to wreak a horrid revenge on him in a perversion of their surgical and nursing skills.

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Enduring Love

McEwan, Ian

Last Updated: Aug-28-2002
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Joe Rose, a popular science writer, and his partner Clarissa, a Keats scholar, are picnicking in the English countryside when an accident happens: a hot air balloon carrying a man and his grandson goes out of control. Five men, including Joe, run to help, holding onto the balloon's ropes; when a gust of wind lifts the balloon, four men, including Joe, let go but the fifth holds on, is lifted high in the air, and falls to his death.

One of the would-be rescuers, Jed Parry, becomes obsessed with Joe, and begins to stalk him, interpreting all rejections as veiled invitations. Jed wants both to convert Joe to charismatic Christianity and, it seems, to become his lover. Communication is impossible, the police are no help, and under the strain Clarissa and Joe's relationship comes apart. In a restaurant, someone at the next table is shot, making Joe realize that Jed is trying to kill him. After breaking into their apartment, threatening Clarissa at knifepoint, and then attempting suicide, Jed is arrested and committed to a psychiatric hospital.

In a subplot, the dead man's widow suffers a loss exacerbated by the belief that her husband had been having an affair. Joe learns the truth about the suspected affair and is able to reveal to the widow that her husband had been faithful after all.

The book ends with two appendices: an invented article from a British psychiatry journal presenting Jed's case, and a letter written to Joe by Jed three years later, still hospitalized, and still, deludedly, in love.

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Atonement

McEwan, Ian

Last Updated: Aug-01-2002
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Please note that in order to provide a useful analysis of this novel, it is necessary to reveal the novel's ending in the discussion below. It is England, 1935. Briony Tallis, 12 years old, decides to become a writer. Her first experiment in novelistic technique involves narrating from three different points of view an odd incident she witnesses from her bedroom window: her sister Cecilia undresses and steps into a fountain in the presence of Robbie Turner, the son of a family servant. Robbie has been educated at Cambridge under Mr. Tallis's patronage, and intends to become a physician. He and Cecilia are in love.

Briony's reconstruction of the incident is inaccurate, but she fails to recognize the lesson of her exercise in multiple perspectives: her version is sufficiently coherent for her to mistake it for reality. She jumps to further conclusions and causes Robbie's wrongful conviction and imprisonment for rape and Cecilia's permanent estrangement from her family.

The rest of the novel both elucidates and unravels the opening sequence. It is 1940 and Briony is becoming both a nurse and a novelist. Both roles represent her efforts to atone for her disastrous narrative misconstrual. As a nurse, she learns a new humility and cares for the appalling injuries of soldiers who, like Robbie, are suffering the war in France.

A more metaphysical atonement lies in her work as a novelist: we realize that we have been reading Briony's own rewriting of the initial events and her careful imaginative reconstruction of Robbie's experiences in the Dunkirk evacuation. She tells of her discovery of the actual rapist (if a rape it was), her decision to retract her accusations and her efforts to make amends with Robbie and Cecilia.

In a final section, set in 1999, the aging Briony, now a successful novelist, learns that she is developing progressive vascular dementia. Soon, her ability to remember and grasp reality will desert her. But she has finished writing her latest version of Robbie and Cecilia's story, the novel we have just read, and can rest.

Her atonement seems complete until we learn that Robbie died in France and Cecilia in the Blitz, and that the (relatively) happy ending we read was simply made up by Briony. Devastatingly, we learn that atonement for an error of fiction has been limited to fictional reparation. The lethal damage it has caused in the actual world is beyond mending . . . unless, of course, we accept the vertiginous truth that the damage described in this novel is itself also no more (or less) than a fiction.

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Black Dogs

McEwan, Ian

Last Updated: Apr-09-2002
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The narrator, Jeremy, orphaned at age 8, is attempting to write a memoir of his wife's parents, June and Bernard Tremaine. The pair married in England in 1946, idealistic young members of the British Communist Party, but on their honeymoon in France something happens to June that estranges her from her husband and his values forever. After the birth of their daughter, Jeremy's wife, the two live separately. June dies in a nursing home in 1987, after telling Jeremy a great deal about her life and marriage.

In 1989 Jeremy and Bernard travel to Germany together to share in the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. Bernard has taken a lot longer than his wife did to give up on communism. In Berlin, Jeremy hears his father-in-law's very different version of the couple's biography. Jeremy then travels to France to try and unearth the truth about their honeymoon, finding unreliable storytellers, poor memory, and, at the center, June's encounter in the French countryside with a pair of black dogs, owned and trained and then abandoned by the Gestapo. The story, as Jeremy reconstitutes it, is a discovery of evil that, regardless of literal factuality, bears a terrible truth about the human capacity to do harm, both personal and political.

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Amsterdam

McEwan, Ian

Last Updated: Apr-09-2002
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Molly Lane, restaurant critic and photographer, has died of a progressive neurological disease. She is survived by George, her husband, as well as by several past lovers, including Clive Linley, a famous composer, his old friend Vernon Halliday, editor of a London newspaper, and Julian Garmony, the British foreign secretary, rumored to be headed for Downing Street. After Molly's funeral, both Clive and Vernon experience odd neurological symptoms and make a mutual pact to help each other commit suicide in order to end suffering. The symptoms appear in both cases to have been psychosomatic, but the pact remains.

George has found career-destroying photographs of Julian Garmony (in drag) among Molly's things, and he gives them to Vernon for the newspaper. Vernon and Clive quarrel over the ethics of a decision each has made: Vernon's decision to publish the pictures, and over Clive's decision not to intervene when, while working on a crucial melody for his symphony during a walk in the country, he sees a woman being attacked by a man who turns out to be a serial rapist. When Vernon is fired and Clive's symphony is a failure, each blames the other and the suicide pact becomes a means of mutual revenge.

A subtext has been a running storyline in Vernon's paper about rumored abuse of the Netherlands's liberal euthanasia laws; the novel ends in Amsterdam, each man involuntarily euthanized by a physician paid by his friend. (Meantime, Garmony's career is in ruins. George has successfully destroyed all three of his wife's lovers.)

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