Wednesday, February 09, 2005

McEwan in the TLS

The new TLS is out with Theo Tait's review of Ian McEwan's Saturday, portions of which I was forunate to have seen him read last April at Caltech (watch the video). Overall positive, but Tait also wonders if the "grown-up" McEwan has yet learned to balance the dialectics of "nightmare and reason."

Narrative tension is an absolutely fundamental part of McEwan’s technique. The stop-start method – whereby he announces or hints that something terrible will happen, and then delays disclosure – is one of his most characteristic manoeuvres. It certainly works, driving the plot forward and ensuring the reader’s close attention. But sometimes it seems that suspense is used to mask some fundamental thinness. Certainly, rereading the final section without the benefit of adrenalin, it seems much less good, and much less interesting than the rest of the novel. Thematically, it doesn’t provide a close fit with what precedes it, except in the general sense that it is about security – the earlier nuances about the balance of threat and paranoia are lost. And, as in any television drama where the hero’s family is threatened, it provides a fairly generic catharsis: with the dream of righteous violence used against the invader. Again, you sense the unresolved conflict between nightmare and reason. The kinky cruelty of the early stories and novellas is still lurking, and the grown-up McEwan, rational and concerned, doesn’t quite know how to exorcize it. As a result, there are thematic resolutions which seem forced, episodes and ethical dilemmas which are not quite believable: a violent stand-off, for instance, in which a reading of Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach” plays a pivotal role . . . .

No comments: