Monday, August 20, 2007


In the hot summer of 1935 a privileged British family holds a dinner party at their country estate. The first third of the novel follows the individual family members on their thoughts over the course of the afternoon; the second jumps forward five years to a bombed-out road in northern France; the third to a London preparing for Blitz. I don't want to say more about the plot out of responsibility to those who haven't read this book yet. Although the action only covers a handful of days (albeit days that are years apart) the book is richly written and the world McEwan has created is very deep.

The downside of the rich prose is that this is a book you have to ingest very slowly to get more than plot from it. The upside, however, outweighs: your labors will be rewarded by the mini-gem of each sentence. McEwan packs something interesting--a wittisism, a truism, an observation about society you can't understand why no one has made before--into literally every sentence. Here's just one scandalous favorite culled from a selection of many, many little word treats:

The smooth-hollowed partly enclosed forms of its first three letters were as clear as a set of anatomical drawings. Three figures, huddling at the foot of a cross.

This, a description of the word "cunt."

The books asks and asks again some uncomfortable but compelling questions, most disorientingly about the innocence of childhood (how innocent IS childhood actually?) and the eventual meaninglessness of familial love (a love that is not chosen). I would recommend this also for McEwan's uncompromisingly faithful capturing of moments in war.

And I apologize in advance for this misguided observation, but am I the ONLY one who thinks Mr. McEwan could be the long-lost cousin of the tenacious Richard Belzer?


angelle said...

this is on my list... someday. hopefully sooner rather than later.

Froog said...

OK, OK, I have no idea who Richard Belzer is, but I admit there is an uncanny similarity between the two photos.

A question for you, Moonrat. Is there a jargon term in the publishing industry for the kind of bookbuyer who only gets around to reading modern fiction when the film version comes out?

Or, more specifically, for someone who buys a book in order to read it before seeing the film?

And further, do you have a word for the sort of person who assiduously seeks out editions with the old, pre-film-tie-in jacket? That's me, that is. I don't generally like photos on book jackets, and particularly not film stills.

If such terms do not already exist in your trade, perhaps you'd care to invent some?

And yes, I have to read 'Atonement' soon.... before I find myself unexpectedly watching the film.

moonrat said...

Yes--I am this kind of person too, if often unwittingly. For example, I saw the preview to Kite Runner before I had a chance to read the book. The preview gives away a LOT of the plot, so as I was reading I found myself simply waiting for the inevitable.

Let's invent a term, indeed.

moonrat said...

in fact I only just noticed the ad for the movie on and was linking back here to complain about it. but you've done my work for me.

Froog said...

I guess the film's opening in England earlier.

There were some early features on it in the Sunday papers when I was back there a few weeks ago.

Sounds good. But I have to read the book first.

Kaytie M. Lee said...

I read this a while back, for a writing workshop. In some ways I felt tricked by the ending.

Lisa said...

You just made me want to move this higher on my TBR stack. I just read On Chesil Beach and I agree with you about his prose -- it's much better to take your time with it and let it do its work.