Sunday, March 25, 2007
The New McEwan
In a tradition that goes back at least as far as "Enduring Love", Ian McEwan's new novel, "On Chesil Beach" is trailed in the Guardian. How to review the extract? - so just a couple of points. I've felt for a while that McEwan is turning into Iris Murdoch, writing about the lovelives and other detritus of rich folk, and this seems even more in that territory, set on a wedding night in 1962 - pure Murdoch territory (though she was writing it as contemporary fiction then.) Yet, its a worrying model, since at her worst she can seem little more than Mills & Boon with a first class degree, and as we accompany Florence on her wedding night, McEwan duly gives us her "husband's enchanted gaze" - and later he's "nauseous with desire and indecision." You already feel that, pastiche or not, this isn't going to be a typical first night, or a typical marriage, with the husband's violent tendencies already telegraphed. This hidden dread is of course McEwan's primary skill, and the flat, methodical build up of prose detail is how he keeps hiding it; yet the writing in this first piece seems anachronistic, the detail's complacent. I'm only mentioning this because Ellis Sharp has expanded on his piece about the recent Josipovici talk, to speak of how the modern novel doesn't try hard enough. To illustrate this he uses a piece that James Woods did several years ago about "Enduring Love" as being an "efficient fictional engine" not a "true novel." McEwan, I think, has since perfected that engine, yet what I thought was exceptional about "Enduring Love" was that it did take some risks, in its structure, form and content (even its title with its dual meaning, of lasting and suffering.) We will have to wait and see if "On Chesil Beach" is another "efficient fictional engine" - I suspect it will be - but I feel that the more complex structures that McEwan attempted, partially successfully in "Enduring Love" are ones he has since shied away from. Notably, "Enduring Love" missed out the prizes, his work since, safer, less risky, has done far better.
Posted by Adrian Slatcher at 11:48 AM