Ian McEwan

Book cover

I read this as a “refresher” book in the midst of “Genji,” because I needed a break and wanted a somewhat smaller book to take on a work trip to New York.

Overall I enjoyed it. The writing is generally good, and the plot is engaging. It was reminiscent of Kafka to me, in very clearly pivoting on one key moment and tracing the threads leading up to and away from it.

I didn’t feel super-engaged by the characters, with the exception of young Briony, who has quite a distinctive and memorable personality. My main complaint is that I found the frame story and literary nesting to be unnecessary. I feel like writers love to write meta-commentary on the craft of writing, for obvious reasons, but it just doesn’t come across as that compelling to a non-writer like me (or anyway, to me). I would much rather the author had taken the room needed for those complications and given the plot and characters a little more room to breathe. Related to this, I found some of the earlier passages to be annoyingly over-written–a lot of direct description of feelings, in ways the characters themselves might not really have been able to access. I think this is fully intentional on McEwan’s part, given what we learn about the in-world nature of the first part of the book. But again, because that doesn’t pay off for me very well, I’m not so willing to put up with it.

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars