Ian McEwan Essay - McEwan, Ian (Vol. 169)

McEwan, Ian (Vol. 169)


Ian McEwan 1948-

(Full name Ian Russell McEwan) English novelist, short story writer, playwright, screenwriter, and children's writer.

The following entry presents an overview of McEwan's career through 2002. See also Ian McEwan Criticism (Volume 13).

One of the most celebrated British writers to come of age during the 1970s, McEwan emerged onto the literary scene at age twenty-seven with the short story collection First Love, Last Rights (1975). Riddled with graphic depictions of rape, incest, and murder—all rendered in detached, forensically precise first-person narration—First Love, Last Rights and its follow-up, In Between the Sheets (1978), earned McEwan both critical acclaim and scorn for his macabre preoccupations. While his later novels, including The Innocent (1990), Enduring Love (1998), and Amsterdam (1999), display considerable growth in the range and depth of his work, McEwan's prose still focuses heavily on gothic predilections and shocking subject material. McEwan has also written several notable screenplays, which include some of his most pointedly political work, as evident in The Ploughman's Lunch (1983). Although his fiction is generally conventional in terms of narrative structure, McEwan's unique prose style, technical skill, unusual characterizations, and satiric wit have earned him acceptance in both traditional and postmodernist literary circles.

Biographical Information

McEwan was born on June 21, 1948, in Aldershot, England. His father, David, was a career Army officer, and McEwan spent most of his childhood years in Singapore and Libya. When he was twelve, McEwan's family returned to England, and he attended a boarding school in Suffolk, where he developed a fondness for English Romantic poetry and modern American and English fiction. He worked briefly in London as a garbage collector before enrolling at the University of Sussex in Brighton, receiving his bachelor's degree in English literature with honors. In 1970 McEwan was accepted into the creative writing program at the University of East Anglia, where the teaching faculty included novelists Malcolm Bradbury and Angus Wilson. After completing his master's degree, McEwan toured Afghanistan and soon began publishing stories in literary magazines. In 1975 McEwan published a selection of short stories he had written for his master's degree under the title First Love, Last Rights, which later received a Somerset Maugham Award. McEwan began writing radio scripts and screenplays and soon had two produced—Conversations with a Cupboardman (1975) was produced for British Broadcasting Company (BBC) radio, and Jack Flea's Birthday Celebration (1976) was produced for BBC television. In 1978 he published a second collection of stories, In Between the Sheets, and his first novel, The Cement Garden. Controversy arose, however, when critics noticed plot similarities between The Cement Garden and Our Mother's House, a 1963 novel by Julian Gloag. McEwan denied having read Gloag's work and no formal charges of plagiarism were filed. McEwan was again the subject of scandal in 1980 when BBC television decided at the last minute to cancel the production of Solid Geometry, a teleplay he adapted from his short story of the same title. The story features a protagonist who keeps a chemically preserved penis in a jar on his desk. Throughout the 1980s, McEwan concentrated primarily on writing screenplays for television and motion pictures, including The Imitation Game, The Ploughman's Lunch, The Last Day of Summer (1984), and Soursweet (1988), as well as the stage play, Strangers (1989). During this period, McEwan also wrote two novels, The Comfort of Strangers (1981) and The Child in Time (1987), which was awarded the Whitbread Award. McEwan married Penny Allen in 1982; the couple would later divorce in 1995. McEwan was on the short-list for the Booker Prize for The Comfort of Strangers and Black Dogs (1992), and was awarded the Booker for his novel Amsterdam. McEwan published Atonement in 2001, which was also short-listed for the Booker Prize, and later received the W. H. Smith Award.

Major Works

In McEwan's first two short story collections—First Love, Last Rights and In Between the Sheets—he establishes several of the recurring motifs that would become hallmarks of his fiction, most notably, the exploration of the effects of power and obsession on the human psyche. The eight stories in First Love, Last Rights are primarily concerned with coming-of-age, though within the collection's grim worldview, maturity is tantamount to corruption. In “Homemade,” the protagonist recounts his first sexual experience—the rape of his younger sister. “Butterflies” also centers on a tale of sexual predation, made even more horrifying by the inclusion of a matter-of-fact murder, while “Disguises” tells of an embittered actress who schools a young nephew in debauchery. In Between the Sheets covers similar subject material, but the collection exhibits a more fabulistic, Kafkaesque tone, indulging heavily in black humor. In “Pornography” two nurses plot to castrate a man who has sexually abused them both, and “Reflections of a Kept Ape” centers on a woman who initiates a sexual relationship with a pet monkey—narrated from the point-of-view of the monkey. McEwan uses these specific episodes of violence and cruelty to investigate how obsession can shape human desires. McEwan continued to examine similar themes in his novels, such as The Cement Garden. The novel follows a group of four children who, after the sudden deaths of their parents, decide to live without adult supervision, presenting a scenario that resembles William Golding's Lord of the Flies. The older children try to master the power necessary to fill the adult roles, but ultimately fail, sending the broken family into chaos. The Comfort of Strangers revolves around a married English couple on an ill-fated vacation in Venice. After a seemingly chance encounter, they become involved with a man who has a psychotic thirst for sexual dominance. In the opening pages of The Child in Time, a man discovers that his young daughter is missing. His daughter is never found, and McEwan traces the man's downward spiral into alcoholic infantilism. By making his protagonist a minor government functionary, McEwan is able to work in themes of political as well as emotional helplessness. In The Innocent, the protagonist is an Englishman working in postwar Germany who, after being recruited by the English intelligence service, discovers that as his power over others increases, so does his desire to exercise it.

McEwan revisited postwar continental Europe in Black Dogs, a dense, multilayered story which explores the effects of power on morality. The novel follows a couple whose marriage begins to crumble after an encounter with a pair of feral dogs. The dogs symbolize not only the evil that humans are capable of, but also the extraordinary acts that people can accomplish when confronting such evil. Enduring Love is a darkly comic tale of two men, Joe Rose and Jed Parry, who meet at the site of a hot-air balloon crash. Jed succumbs to an obsessive love for Joe and begins stalking him. Meanwhile, Joe finds it nearly impossible to convince his wife and friends that Jed is obsessed with him. Amsterdam also centers upon a relationship between two men, a composer and a newspaper editor, who, at the funeral of a mutual friend, initiate an euthanasia pact. The complex and comic plot eventually puts the characters at odds, climaxing in Holland where euthanasia can be easily arranged. Atonement recounts the story of a novelist who, in her youth, gave damning testimony that led to a working-class boy's false conviction for rape. Subsequent sections of the novel follow the boy's post-prison experiences during the British retreat from Dunkirk during World War II, and the novelist's experiences as a nurse during the Battle of Britain. While his dramatic works have received considerably less critical attention than his fiction, The Ploughman's Lunch is often noted as one of McEwan's strongest works. Set during the Falkland Islands War of the 1980s, the tale centers on a cynical journalist who is writing a revisionist history of the Suez crisis of the 1950s—one which defends British attempts to retain control of the canal, and thereby the Middle East. By juxtaposing the two crises, McEwan displays how fictional gamesmanship can have very real—and very dire—consequences.

Critical Reception

McEwan's preoccupation with disquieting subject matter has garnered him a great deal of public notoriety in England, but it has also polarized the critical assessment of his work. While some critics have maintained that McEwan is a serious literary writer who addresses challenging issues in his work, others have asserted that he is merely a glorified horror writer who is solely concerned with producing gratuitously shocking prose. Despite these disagreements about the topics of his novels, short stories, and screenplays, McEwan has been consistently praised for his storytelling, characterizations, and adept handling of metaphor and symbol. Several reviewers have noted the publication of The Child in Time as the beginning of a more mature stage in McEwan's writing career. These critics have argued that McEwan's novels published after The Child in Time—including Enduring Love and Atonement—focus much more heavily on elements of psychological depth, moral complexity, and political awareness than his earlier works. While many commentators have suggested that McEwan's Booker-winning novel Amsterdam was not his strongest work, most have agreed that McEwan had been long overdue for serious literary recognition. However, a number of reviewers have found McEwan's schematic moral and philosophical oppositions distracting, particularly in Black Dogs, and have complained that his later plot-driven fiction too easily falls prey to the demands of narrative movement. Additionally, several critics have suggested that McEwan abandoned the subversive and experimental elements of his earlier work—as seen in the stories “Reflections of a Kept Ape” and “To and Fro” from In Between the Sheets—to obtain more mainstream acceptance. Although many postmodern critics have maintained that McEwan's later work has not lived up to the promise of his early short stories, McEwan is still often compared to such avant garde authors as Martin Amis and J. G. Ballard.

Principal Works

Conversations with a Cupboardman (radio play) 1975

First Love, Last Rites (short stories) 1975

Jack Flea's Birthday Celebration (screenplay) 1976

The Cement Garden (novel) 1978

In Between the Sheets (short stories) 1978

The Imitation Game (screenplay) 1980

The Comfort of Strangers (novel) 1981

*The Imitation Game: Three Plays for Television (screenplays) 1981

Or Shall We Die? [music by Michael Berkeley] (oratorio) 1983

The Ploughman's Lunch (screenplay) 1983

The Last...

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Wendy Lesser (review date 16 November 1992)

SOURCE: Lesser, Wendy. “The Heart of the Matter.” New Republic 207, no. 21 (16 November 1992): 41-2, 44.

[In the following review, Lesser discusses the two phases of McEwan's career commonly identified by critics, examining such elements as plot, characterization, and style in Black Dogs.]

Ian McEwan's career is sometimes seen by his critics as falling into two distinct clumps. The first, in this view, consists of his first three books: the stories in First Love, Last Rites (1975), the early novel called The Cement Garden (1978), and a second set of stories called In Between the Sheets (1978). The turning point is either just before or just...

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Frances Padorr Brent (review date 20 December 1992)

SOURCE: Brent, Frances Padorr. “Seeing the ‘Debased Imagination’ That Shapes History.” Chicago Tribune Books (20 December 1992): 3.

[In the following review of Black Dogs, Brent commends McEwan's unsettling depiction of domestic violence, but finds his political commentary lifeless.]

As we approach the year 2000, it is not surprising to find a number of American and European novelists evoking apocalyptic imagery in order to express the conflicting forces of a receding century.

British novelist Ian McEwan has summoned the images of wild dogs [in Black Dogs], with their age-old association to the vengeance of the Lord, to examine...

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Ariel Swartley (review date 20 December 1992)

SOURCE: Swartley, Ariel. “Fissures under the Crust.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (20 December 1992): 3-4.

[In the following review, Swartley presents a plot synopsis of Black Dogs, asserting that the character portraits of Bernard and June Tremaine and the attack on June by a pair of feral dogs both reflect McEwan's penchant for examining humanity.]

The anticipatory chill begins with the title, Black Dogs. Fans of Ian McEwan's fiction know better than to envision cuddly house pets. Hounds of the general size and ferocity of the Baskerville beasts would be more likely. In four previous novels and two short-story collections, the 44-year-old Briton...

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Kerry Fried (review date 14 January 1993)

SOURCE: Fried, Kerry. “Criminal Elements.” New York Review of Books 40, nos. 1-2 (14 January 1993): 36-7.

[In the following excerpt, Fried examines various aspects of Black Dogs, such as its handling of domestic violence, the importance of Jeremy in comparison to protagonists June and Bernard, its portrayal of the post-World War II period, and the events surrounding the fall of European communism in 1989.]

The narrators in Ian McEwan's earlier books tend to live in rarefied, nightmarish domestic situations rather than in precise locations or times. His explorations of solitary lives and domestic futility, and particularly the ruin of childhood, occasionally...

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Joseph J. Feeney (review date 30 April 1994)

SOURCE: Feeney, Joseph J. Review of Black Dogs, by Ian McEwan. America 170, no. 15 (30 April 1994): 22-4.

[In the following excerpt, Feeney offers praise for Black Dogs, lauding its “scope, depth, and unity,” and its treatment of such themes as politics, religion, the quest for family, and European political oppression.]

London booksellers are brave: They display works of quality along with best sellers. Not too long ago, on their laden tables, I found three superb new novels—one British, two Irish—that are now available in American editions and deserve an American audience.

Ian McEwan's Black Dogs is brilliant, with a...

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Jack Slay, Jr. (essay date summer 1994)

SOURCE: Slay, Jack, Jr. “Vandalizing Time: Ian McEwan's The Child in Time.Critique 35, no. 4 (summer 1994): 205-18.

[In the following essay, Slay examines the connections between children and the passage of time in The Child in Time, drawing attention to parallels between the loss of the protagonist's child and the theme of time as the destroyer of youth and, alternately, as a mode of recovery and rejuvenation.]

At first, The Child in Time seems to be a radical departure from the violence and shock of Ian McEwan's earlier work. The novel is certainly a departure from the blood, pus, and semen that inundate his stories and previous novels;...

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Phil Baker (review date 30 September 1994)

SOURCE: Baker, Phil. “Studies in Solipsism.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4774 (30 September 1994): 25.

[In the following review, Baker offers praise for The Daydreamer, lauding the characterizations, wit, and attention to detail in the work.]

The Daydreamer is a children's book, containing seven stories about the adventures of young Peter Fortune. Peter is a “difficult” child, not because he is badly behaved but because he is so quiet and dreamy. Throughout these stories, he slips in and out of reality, crossing the threshold with a just perceptible shift.

Alone with his sister's dolls, he feels their uncanny little eyes...

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Paul Edwards (essay date spring 1995)

SOURCE: Edwards, Paul. “Time, Romanticism, Modernism and Moderation in Ian McEwan's The Child in Time.English 44, no. 178 (spring 1995): 41-55.

[In the following essay, Edwards considers McEwan's evocation of Romantic and Modernist conceptions of time, experience, and natural order in The Child in Time, especially as such motifs underscore the novel's literary critique of British social and political reality.]

Ian McEwan's The Child in Time tells the story of a couple whose lives (and marriage, it would seem) have been blighted by the abduction of their child, and depicts an England which has been blighted by a government even more...

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Christina Byrnes (essay date June 1995)

SOURCE: Byrnes, Christina. “Ian McEwan—Pornographer or Prophet?” Contemporary Review 266, no. 1553 (June 1995): 320-23.

[In the following essay, Byrnes provides an overview of McEwan's artistic and thematic development through the publication of The Daydreamer, drawing attention to his explorations of sexual obsession and psychic integration.]

Considering that Ian McEwan won the Somerset Maugham award for his first book, a collection of short stories entitled First Love, Last Rites, there is surprisingly little written about him. In the eighteen years that he has been writing, he has often been misunderstood and plagued by controversy. The BBC first...

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Anita Brookner (review date 30 August 1997)

SOURCE: Brookner, Anita. “Desire and Pursuit.” Spectator 279, no. 8822 (30 August 1997): 28-9.

[In the following review, Brookner praises Enduring Love for its effective use of “psychological terrorism,” McEwan's patient building of conflict and suspense, and the book's ultimate portrait of disintegration.]

De Clérambault's syndrome, named after the French psychiatrist who first isolated and identified it in 1942, describes that state of would-be possession which is now tamely known as stalking. De Clérambault's most famous patient was in love with King George V, and was convinced that the curtains of the upper windows of Buckingham Palace delivered...

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Amanda Craig (review date 5 September 1997)

SOURCE: Craig, Amanda. “Out of the Balloon.” New Statesman 126, no. 4350 (5 September 1997): 43.

[In the following review of Enduring Love, Craig criticizes the novel's schematic opposition of science and religion.]

Is love the subject or object? Is it love that endures or love that must be endured which preoccupies the protagonist of Ian McEwan's latest novel [Enduring Love]?

It gets off to a splendid start. Joe and Clarissa are having a picnic in the Chilterns. Suddenly they notice a balloon with a child in it floating off despite the desperate attempts of the child's grandfather to hang on. The child seems certain to be...

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Oliver Reynolds (review date 12 September 1997)

SOURCE: Reynolds, Oliver. “A Master of Accidents.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4928 (12 September 1997): 12.

[In the following review, Reynolds proposes that each of McEwan's novels follows a template of three parts revolving around a male-female relationship, an external threat to that relationship, and a definite focus on language. However, Reynolds faults Enduring Love for its asides on scientific theory and the vagaries of love, and its use of multiple narrative points of view.]

Early in his second novel, The Comfort of Strangers (1981), Ian McEwan calls up Mozart to usher in the theme which virtually dominates all his work. Colin, who is on...

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Brian D. Johnson (review date 17 November 1997)

SOURCE: Johnson, Brian D. “Of Human Bonding.” Maclean's (17 November 1997): 106, 108.

[In the following review, Johnson extols the descriptive opening portions of Enduring Love, praising McEwan's ability to delineate events with precision.]

As a storyteller, British author Ian McEwan is something of a pathologist. His narratives tend to circle around a single terrifying event, a moment of panic that casts a long and malignant shadow over a character's life. Using spare, ruthless prose, McEwan magnifies the event and dissects it with clinical precision, slowing motion and stopping time to let strange and inappropriate thoughts float to the surface.


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Richard Eder (review date 25 January 1998)

SOURCE: Eder, Richard. “Twitching Curtains.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (25 January 1998): 2.

[In the following review, Eder finds major flaws in the uneven narrative energy and invented case study in Enduring Love.]

It begins [in Enduring Love] with dazzling cinematic bravura. Joe and Clarissa, his live-in lover, are having a spring picnic in Britain's Chiltern Hills. About to uncork the wine, they hear a man shout.

“We turned to look across the field and saw the danger. Next thing I was running towards it,” Joe relates. Then for an instant, like a bright lure seized by a bottom fish and dragged under, the dazzle yields to leaden...

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Jonathan Taylor (review date March 1998)

SOURCE: Taylor, Jonathan. Review of Enduring Love, by Ian McEwan. Artforum 36, no. 7 (March 1998): S20.

[In the following review, Taylor offers an unfavorable assessment of Enduring Love, asserting that McEwan's style and structure in the novel is overbearing and repetitive.]

“The pathological extensions of love not only touch upon but overlap with normal experience,” goes the neatly summarizing thesis of Enduring Love (quoted, apparently, from an actual British Journal of Psychiatry article), a statement that evokes the irritatingly schematic quality Ian McEwan's books sometimes have. It's fair to say that he intends, as the cover of...

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Rosemary Dinnage (review date 9 April 1998)

SOURCE: Dinnage, Rosemary. “So Alert with Love.” New York Review of Books 45, no. 6 (9 April 1998): 32-3.

[In the following review, Dinnage argues that Enduring Love is an efficient, gripping examination of such themes as “guilt and love and fear.”]

After six previous novels and two books of short stories, Ian McEwan's reputation as a writer of small, impeccably written fictions is secure. His gift for the cold and scary is well established, too: among the critical praise that festoons his book jackets, the word “macabre” crops up more than once. But his books are more than tales of suspense and shock: they raise issues of guilt and love and fear,...

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Valerie Sayers (review date 8 May 1998)

SOURCE: Sayers, Valerie. “Up, Up and Away.” Commonweal 125, no. 9 (8 May 1998): 24-6.

[In the following review, Sayers offers a positive assessment of Enduring Love, but notes that the novel's philosophical ideas and thematic tensions ultimately give way to the demands of narrative movement.]

Ian McEwan's elegant, unsettling novels seek out the dangers that lurk, waiting to disrupt everyday lives: child snatchers, accidents, vicious animals, stalkers. These threatening motifs are connected, often implicitly, to questions of political and philosophical belief. In Enduring Love this connection is explicit: from the opening scene onward, it is clear that...

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Phil Baker (review date 4 September 1998)

SOURCE: Baker, Phil. “Comfy Conspiracies.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4979 (4 September 1998): 9.

[In the following review, Baker judges Amsterdam to be an entertaining examination of such favorite McEwan themes as “grotesque private behaviour, the violation of privacy, and a couple threatened by circumstances.”]

Hailing a cab outside the Dorchester one day, the gorgeous restaurant critic and photographer, Molly Lane, feels a tingling in her arm. It is the beginning of events that neither she nor anyone else could have foreseen. First comes the appallingly rapid progress of a disease that reduces her to an abject state before it kills her. And then...

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Stuart Burrows (review date 11 September 1998)

SOURCE: Burrows, Stuart. “Lost Promise.” New Statesman 127, no. 4402 (11 September 1998): 47-8.

[In the following review, Burrows provides an unfavorable assessment of Amsterdam, deriding McEwan's tendency toward melodrama and forced symbolism in his novels.]

Ian McEwan lays claim to a world of terrifying violence and desire uncharted by the polite talking shop of the postwar British novel. “Angus Wilson, Iris Murdoch, Kingsley Amis … they all seemed to come from a world and a social milieu that I had nothing to do with,” he has said. “I guess the stories I was writing were a lunge at another territory.”

McEwan's new work,...

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Anita Brookner (review date 12 September 1998)

SOURCE: Brookner, Anita. “All Good Pals and Jolly Bad Company.” Spectator 281, no. 8875 (12 September 1998): 39.

[In the following review, Brookner criticizes Amsterdam, faulting the plot for being underdeveloped, lacking female characters, and weak characterizations.]

When three old friends—well, two friends and one intimate enemy—meet at a former lover's funeral and offer their glum condolences [in the novel Amsterdam] to the deceased's uninteresting husband, George, they set in train a revenge tragedy which is ludic, heartless, and oddly lightweight. The friends are Clive Linley, a composer who is working on a symphony for the Millennium,...

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Peter Bien (review date autumn 1998)

SOURCE: Bien, Peter. Review of Enduring Love, by Ian McEwan. World Literature Today 72, no. 4 (autumn 1998): 830-31.

[In the following review of Enduring Love, Bien commends McEwan's literary skill, but finds the novel weakened by its dependence on plot for its impetus.]

One does not appreciate how cynical Ian McEwan's novel Enduring Love is before reaching “Appendix I,” purportedly a scientific paper on de Clerambault's syndrome (a homoerotic obsession with religious overtones), where one reads, “A review of the literature … suggests that this is indeed a most lasting form of love, often terminated only by the death of the patient.” Only...

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Judith Seaboyer (essay date winter 1999)

SOURCE: Seaboyer, Judith. “Sadism Demands a Story: Ian McEwan's The Comfort of Strangers.Modern Fiction Studies 45, no. 4 (winter 1999): 957-86.

[In the following essay, Seaboyer examines the significance of psychic trauma, violence, and the cultural landscape of Venice in The Comfort of Strangers.]

Ian McEwan's The Comfort of Strangers operates on two levels. It is an unheimlich tale of gothic horror that turns on sadomasochism and ritualized murder, but at the same time—and I will focus on this aspect of the novella—it is an engaged meditation on the historical, cultural, and psychoanalytic narratives that uphold an economy Kaja...

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Gabriele Annan (review date 14 January 1999)

SOURCE: Annan, Gabriele. “Wages of Sin.” New York Review of Books 46, no. 1 (14 January 1999): 7-8.

[In the following review, Annan commends Amsterdam, praising it as a “savage farce”and an “indictment of human nature.” Annan also lauds McEwan's descriptive skills, scientific acumen, and portrayal of children.]

Ian McEwan is a prize winner. His novels and stories have won the Somerset Maugham Award and the Whitbread Prize, and have been shortlisted for Britain's most hyped trophy, the Booker Prize. This year he won it with Amsterdam. When the award was made in October, there were murmurs that it must have been an act of reparation by this...

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Jago Morrison (essay date spring 2001)

SOURCE: Morrison, Jago. “Narration and Unease in Ian McEwan's Later Fiction.” Critique 42, no. 3 (spring 2001): 253-68.

[In the following essay, Morrison examines aspects of time, gender identity, and historical memory in Black Dogs and Enduring Love, particularly as informed by Paul Ricoeur's Time and Narrative and the feminist theory of Julia Kristeva.]

For a generation of well-established postmodernist writers in Britain, the exploration of narrative as the containment and control of temporal experience is of central importance. What makes Ian McEwan's writing especially worthy of attention is the way in which his experimentation with time...

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Robert Winder (review date 17 September 2001)

SOURCE: Winder, Robert. “Between the Acts.” New Statesman 130, no. 4555 (17 September 2001): 49.

[In the following review, Winder offers a mixed assessment of Atonement, praising McEwan's literary skill but finding the novel's narrative leaps and omissions unsatisfying.]

Ian McEwan's new novel [Atonement], launched smoothly into the slipstream of the autumn rush, presents us with a puzzle. On one level, it is manifestly high-calibre stuff: cool, perceptive, serious and vibrant with surprises. It will probably be on the Booker shortlist, and might even win. So it is probably silly to waste time pointing out that the most glaring aspects of the book are...

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James Wood (review date 25 March 2002)

SOURCE: Wood, James. “The Trick of Truth.” New Republic 226, no. 11 (25 March 2002): 28.

[In the following review, Wood commends Atonement as one of McEwan's finest novels, lauding the large scope of the plot and a feeling of “spaciousness” that is in contrast to McEwan's other works which, Wood asserts, have at times seemed “artificial” and contrived.]

Ian McEwan is one of the most gifted literary storytellers alive—where storytelling means kinesis, momentum, prowl, suspense, charge. His paragraphs are mined with menace. He is a master of the undetonated bomb and the slow-acting detail: the fizzing fact that slowly dissolves throughout a novel and...

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Lynne Sharon Schwartz (review date March-April 2002)

SOURCE: Schwartz, Lynne Sharon. “Quests for Redemption.” New Leader 85, no. 2 (March-April 2002): 23-5.

[In the following excerpt, Schwartz praises the engaging fictional world of Atonement, but objects to the novel's concluding postmodern conceit.]

Good news: In a world turned surreal, realism in literature lives on, at least in Britain. Both Ian McEwan, prolific and experienced, and Andrew Miller, a young author of two previous novels, offer new works that seduce, absorb, illuminate, and comfort. By “comfort,” I'm not suggesting that their visions are complacent or reassuring—far from it. But their painstaking exploration of private dilemmas in the...

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Further Reading


Bethune, Brian. “Look Back in Melancholy.” Maclean's (14 January 2002): 45.

Bethune discusses the ways that Atonement and W. G. Sebald's Austerlitz use the setting of the past and how both authors use events from history to comment on the art of writing.

Breslin, John B. “Lies and War.” America 187, no. 2 (15 July 2002): 22.

Breslin offers an overview of Atonement, extolling McEwan's narrative abilities as well as the novel's overall scope and ironic twists.

Charles, Ron. “Friends Strike Out in Dark Comedy.” Christian Science Monitor (17 December...

(The entire section is 355 words.)