Ian Russell McEwan (muhk-YEW-uhn) was born on June 21, 1948, in the military town of Aldershot (southern England), to Rose Lillian Violet (Moore) McEwan and David McEwan. His mother was a war widow with two children; his father, later to become a major, had joined the army in face of the bleak employment situation in Glasgow. As a soldier’s son, Ian spent a significant part of his early childhood at military outposts in Singapore and Libya. In an interview with Ian Hamilton, he remembered life in Africa with “very open air, a great deal of running free, swimming, exploring the coast and the desert.” At the age of eleven, McEwan was sent to a state-owned British boarding school, Woolverstone Hall in Suffolk, where he stayed until 1966. Shy and quiet, he was a mediocre student unnoticed by teachers. In his late teens, however, he became competitive and developed a serious interest in English literature and the popular culture of the 1960’s.
On completing his secondary education, McEwan went to London, where he read voraciously and worked as a garbage collector for Camden Council. He went on to study French and English literature at the University of Sussex, and received his honors B.A. in 1970. The following year he earned an M.A. in creative writing at the celebrated University of East Anglia, where he studied under novelists Malcolm Bradbury and Angus Wilson.
In 1972 McEwan’s short story “Homemade” was published in New American Review. Following his publication debut, the young author joined a somewhat disappointing hippie-trail trip to Afghanistan. Back in England, he spent time writing notes and teaching English as a second language. After successfully selling his short story “Disguises” to New American Review, McEwan was inspired to further work: “I wrote ‘Last Day of Summer’ and ‘Butterflies’ and ‘Solid Geometry’ on a wave of confidence,” he told Ian Hamilton.
McEwan settled in London in 1974. Two years later, he published his first collection of short stories, First Love, Last Rites, which received the Somerset Maugham Award. The collection, based on his M.A. thesis, explores the themes of childhood and adolescence, focusing on the intimate workings of the protagonists’ minds. The year 1976 also marked McEwan’s television debut, with the airing of the play Jack Flea’s Birthday Celebration on BBC-TV. McEwan’s second short-story collection, In Between the Sheets, was published in 1978. As in the case of First Love, Last Rites, critical response to the volume concentrated on the violently sexual content of the stories, neglecting the formal experimentation that had been the author’s primary concern. Thus, McEwan became labeled as the author of the morbid and the perverse, a classification that was to follow him throughout most of his career.
McEwan’s first novel, The Cement Garden, continued the mode of his short stories with its closely observed psychology, its fascination with childhood, and its macabre gothic mood. Following the success of The Cement...
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