Ian McEwan Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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...

(The entire section is 1273 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Ian Russel McEwan was born in Aldershot, England, on June 21, 1948, where his father, David McEwan, a career military man, was stationed. His mother, Rose Moore McEwan, the widow of a soldier killed in World War II, had two older children, and McEwan considered himself “psychologically, an only child.” He spent his childhood at military bases in Singapore and Libya before returning to England in 1959 to attend a state-run boarding school and then enter the University of Sussex, from which he graduated with a B.A. honors degree in English in 1970.

During his third year at Sussex, he had begun to write fiction, and he decided to enter the M.A. program at the University of East Anglia because he could “submit a little fiction instead of writing a thesis.” After graduating in 1971, he spent a year traveling before placing a story, “Homemade,” with New American Review. His first book, First Love, Last Rites, which developed out of his graduate thesis, was published in 1975. Explaining that he sometimes felt confined by fiction, McEwan began to write screenplays for television and films, and composed an oratorio, Or Shall We Die? (1983), about nuclear annihilation, which was performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. His primary area of work, however, is the novel, and, after being shortlisted twice for the increasingly prestigious Booker McConnell Prize, his novel Amsterdam won the award in 1998. Some critics felt that Enduring Love, which was the best-selling work of fiction in the United Kingdom for months, was an even stronger effort, although it was (unaccountably) left off the Booker shortlist.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Ian McEwan was born in Aldershot, England, in 1948 into a military family. His Scottish father, David, was a sergeant major in the British army, so the young McEwan spent much of his childhood on army bases in Singapore and Libya. He said that those experiences abroad opened his eyes to the importance of politics and history to ordinary people’s lives. He has described his father as charming but domineering, and his mother as easily intimidated; this combination likely led to his parents’ decision in 1942 to give away for adoption his only full sibling, David (Dave) Sharp. Sharp renewed contact with McEwan and his family in 2002 and wrote a memoir about his life, Complete Surrender (2008), for which McEwan wrote the foreword.

McEwan attended a boarding school in Sussex from 1959 to 1966, then studied English and French at the University of Sussex for three years before enrolling in a one-year master’s degree program at the new University of East Anglia. He completed part of his course work in creative writing under the supervision of the well-known writer and critic Malcolm Bradbury. In 1971, McEwan began his career as a professional author, attracting critical attention in the mid-1970’s and quickly gaining a reputation, along with his friend Martin Amis, as one of the enfants terribles of the British literary world.

McEwan was married to journalist Penny Allen, with whom he had two sons, from 1982 to 1997. Their divorce led to a bitter custody battle, which McEwan eventually won; the details of the case are protected by a nondisclosure agreement. In 1997, he married Annalena McAfee.

Throughout his career, McEwan has been active in various political causes, including the feminist and antinuclear movements in the 1980’s and the later environmental movement. He has spoken against religious extremism as a leading cause of terrorism and world unrest. He is a declared atheist, with a keen interest in science, yet is fascinated by the imagination, myth, fantasy, and the power of “magical thinking.”