His long novels have a long, though not always pleasant, history. Many of his 19th-century books were aimed at servants and a readership with plenty of leisure time. Among other demographics, this continued into the lifetime of my own Liberty grandparents, but reading was often a family or group activity and a way to get through the long winter nights. Lists, genealogies, and adjectives had a curious preponderance in the works of Defoe and Dickens, as they were paid in Less did not mean more. It meant less.from don quixote to James Joyce Ulyssesnovelists have resisted the urge to make it snappy.
A fascinating exception is Ian McEwan, the greatest British novelist of his time. On Chesil BeachAt about 40,000 words, it can be read in an afternoon. “McEwan lowered the bar for all of us,” joked one Irish novelist. But indeed, as usual, he turned it up.It would be a big mistake to think On Chesil Beach as a miniature. It has all the power and authority of a sad song.
lessonHis twentieth novel, is more of a grand opera, with a somewhat Wagnerian weight of 483 pages. Beginning with a sequence in which Miss Cornell, a piano teacher, projects her own sexuality onto young and vulnerable teenager Roland Baines, it doesn’t immediately deliver an easy hook, but the clarity and prominence of the writing is recognizable. start stirring up.
“When he started, his first note was twice as loud as his second note. He moved carefully to the third and fourth notes and sped up. It was cautious. It was something, but it felt like stealth, and the lack of practice set him free.”
The book is also picking up speed, and 25 years later Roland’s wife goes missing and he has to contend with a baby son and a storm of emotions and suspicions. Across three parts—his three acts—the story seems to chime in, sometimes dissonant.
This novel is a book for music lovers, from Britten, Mozart and Purcell to The Velvet Underground, Elvis and Bob Dylan, Schumann, Pierre Boulez, Lounge Lizard Pianist, Zukla, Arab Bagpipes and more. . Many Irish readers and their children of a certain generation will nod in grim recognition that the book evokes London’s construction sites and the “lumps”, the system in which irregular workers are exploited. .
“Older men, he recalled, had developed a kind of stubborn detachment after years of weathered controversy.” London is evoked with extraordinary vividness and a kind of stoicism. . Balam. underground. Clapham South Tube. Victorian villas, faded Woolworths and Poundland shops.
From Suez to the Cuban Missile Crisis to the 1989 revolution to the recent pandemic, the novel’s vast geographic and historical sprawl is remarkable. , to italicize memories you like and strike those you don’t. But they never completely disappear from our story.
There are also moments of moody humor.Rowland’s London Work as Theater Critic for His Listing Magazine time out Bringing him to many experimental fringe productions, he remembers it easily.
A school teacher tells her teenage students that there are only two words to say about masturbation. “have fun”. Roland’s work as pianist in the tea room of a “second class hotel in central London” is described by his manager as “Munch music”. “If he plays Misty Wistfully, someone might come in and leave a £1 bill on the piano. One American woman said he looked like Clint Eastwood.
Book reviews often contain very few coded words. For reviewers to describe a novel as “ambitious” is sometimes derogatory, a way of indicating that the work aims high but is not entirely successful. Every time we see the adjective ‘dazzling’, critics find it hard to get the point across. , sending messages while offering plausible negatives to reviewers. In fact, in the novel Rowland himself refers to a kind of review as offering “ironic and dishonest words of admiration”.
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However lesson Ambitious and dazzling in the most uplifting sense, it is full of courage, skill and daring storytelling. I found McEwan’s apparent trust in the novel itself deeply moving, and his commitment to his central characters to be deeply humane.
In the old days, readers were accustomed to long novels. It is a book that must be half-completed. With a click, beautiful, wonderful music is born. Less is less.However lesson More.
Joseph O’Connor has been awarded the 2022 American Irish Foundation Literary Award.His next novel, My Father’s House, will be published in January