Summer Reading

Ian McEwan's observation of human experience is unflaggingly acute

Summer Reading


by Ian McEwan

Talese, 304 pp., $26

Ian McEwan's observation of human experience is unflaggingly acute. Take, for example, a moment from his latest, which follows neuroscientist Henry Perowne through the events of a single day in February of 2003. Perowne's driving to a squash game, reflecting on the protest march that has blocked a main thoroughfare. His mental wanderings are familiar enough, but the way they've been slowed down for our examination is characteristic McEwan: "The world probably has changed fundamentally and the matter is being clumsily handled ... there'll be more deaths on a similar scale, probably in this city. Is he so frightened that he can't face the fact? ... He experiences [these questions] more as a mental shrug followed by an interrogative pulse." McEwan captures perfectly the way we think to ourselves. In fact, so absorbed are we in Perowne's mind that when he finds himself in a car accident a moment later, we are as startled as he is. McEwan deftly diagrams the crash at the same time that he preserves its stomach-churning swiftness, "the snap of a wing mirror cleanly sheared and the whine of sheet-steel surfaces sliding under pressure." So commences the unsettling crescendo of the day, which, in true McEwan form, must eventually include a direct confrontation with horror. Writing this precise has the dual effect of calling attention to the author's gifts at the same time that it self-effaces. Really, it seems to say, anyone could do what I've done here, if only they took the time. So we follow along cheerfully as McEwan invokes the big questions: Where does evil come from? What is to be made of chance? What is the function of art? Like his surgeon protagonist, McEwan is calmly dispassionate but never disinterested. Breathtakingly exact, his prose cuts into everything from brains to literature to war crimes to blues music. The author, like the surgeon, is never happier than when he's engaged in the process of this opening-up; the reader, like an observer in an operating theatre, can't help but be fascinated by what the good doctor is showing us: experience, so bloodless yet so gorgeously alive.
  • Summer Reading

  • The Coast of Akron

    It's been said that behind every great man there's a woman, but Adrienne Miller kicks it up a notch

    The Missing Person

    This auspicious debut, begun at the Michener Center for Writers, isn't a mystery yarn or a family gothic, a romance, or a satire of radical environmentalism. It's all of the above and then some.

    Dark Matter, Reading the Bones: Speculative Fiction From the African Diaspora

    For those new to speculative fiction in general and African-American writers of the form in particular, the newest 'Dark Matter' anthology, edited by Sheree Thomas, is the perfect guide

    The R. Crumb Handbook

    The familiar self-portrait on the front cover of 'The R. Crumb Handbook' offers a warning before you crack the spine:'I'm not here to be polite!'

    Contrabando: Confessions of a Drug-Smuggling Texas Cowboy

    He spent seven years smuggling marijuana into the United States over the border from Mexico and somehow lived to write about it

    The People of Paper

    Rarely does a novel succeed in strengthening itself through its own dismantling
  • The Closers

    Michael Connelly's ace homicide detective Harry Bosch is back with LAPD after three years' retirement


    Anyone familiar with the musical output of John Wesley Harding (né Wesley Stace) knows that the artist possesses a sly wit and literary ear that sets him apart from his fellow folk singers

    Bitter Milk

    One big, crippling thought that makes you wonder how long John McManus has been waiting to confide it, this naturalistic first novel from the former Michener fellow and author of the short-story collections 'Born on a Train' and 'Stop Breakin Down' takes place in late-Eighties East Tennessee at the base of a ridge in the Smokies


    In 'Embroideries,' Marjane Satrapi again returns to the Iran of her youth, this time taking readers to a more intimate place, the space inhabited by women

    Also Recommended

    Some other summer reading possibilities ...

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  


Ian McEwan, Talese, Saturday

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle