Ian McEwan (born in 1948) is one of the most rewarded and widely read contemporary English writers of 21st century. His novels, which in many cases have become worldwide bestsellers, have received critical acclaim and won a number of important literary accolades including the Man Booker Prize (1998). McEwan assuredly owes his critical and commercial success to his writing approach – a sort of creative recipe well known to many present and past authors attentive to their literary style, desirous to create an intriguing plot. This principle has guided him from the beginning, when, as a young man, he understood, thanks to Brighton Rock by Graham Green, that ‘a serious novel could be an exciting novel’. It is arguably this singularity of McEwan’s fiction that entranced me. In this article I will briefly present two novels by this author – Enduring Love and Amsterdam – which made me a great admirer of his writing technique, encouraged me to follow his literary career and, what is more, to read, in the near future, his remaining novels.
Published in 1997, Enduring Love is a story of Joe Rose, a middle-aged science journalist, who has to face a rather uncommon predicament. In an unusual course of events, he meets a certain young man, called Jed Parry, suffering from de Clerambault’s syndrome. This rare mental disorder makes the afflicted persons deeply believe that someone is infatuated with them, no matter how hard the people around them try to persuade them that they are living in a disillusion. Despite Joe’s constant assertions, Parry is indeed intimately convinced of the unconscious infatuation of the journalist. This apparently unrealistic and oversophisticated problem allows McEwan to create a compelling story rich in psychological portraits of the characters that feel or endure love. The author deftly plays with the ‘horizon of expectations’ of the readers unable, until the last pages of the book, to perceive the truth, to fathom if Joe’s feelings are real or false.
The Man Booker Prize winning novel Amsterdam (1998) has a no less surprising and breathtaking plot. It starts with a funeral of an enigmatic artist, Molly Lane, who, throughout her life, had numerous romances. This sad event draws in fact her great lovers: a newspaper editor, Vernon Halliday, a music composer, Clive Linley, and the British Foreign Secretary, likely to soon become the Prime Minister, Julian Garmony. The spirit of the deceased Molly will long remain among the three men, since she leaves certain disturbing traces of her troubled past. The deceased woman’s husband, George, discovers some photos, which show a disparaging image of Julian Garmony currently in the race for the leadership of an ultra-conservative party. The widower decides to give these controversial proofs to Vernon. The latter has to choose whether to publish them and destroy Garmony’s reputation, family life and a very promising political career or to simply ignore them. To make the final decision, he consults Clive. The three ex-lovers are thus involved in this affair. McEwan serves once again his readers a well-written story replete with remarkable characters and an unexpected end. He bases his plot on the question of choice, which, from antiquity to the present day, has continuously inspired the writers. Whatever Vernon decides, the outcome will not be entirely satisfying: he has to choose whether to ruin one man’s future or to let his country be governed by the ultra-conservatives. This choice renders to be even more important as a bad decision could possibly destroy Vernon’s life as well.
It only remains for me to encourage you to read Enduring love, Amsterdam or any other of Ian McEwan’s novels, to delve into his fiction and to discover this noteworthy English contemporary writer.
Text: Pawel Hladki