Sunday, December 23, 2007

Ah, sentences! Discovering Ian McEwen

It's always a joy to discover a "new" writer, especially one who was always just below the radar. I avoided McEwen for years, though he was praised as literate, smart, a good psychological plotter, etc. But I was afraid to read a book about an abducted child outside of the mystery genre. It didn't help that another of his books was titled The Cement Garden. But the extensive publicity about the new movie of Atonement sent me back to the book, which is as captivating as anything by Forster. And with prose as clean as Lively's, prose that the author reads aloud to himself to hear how it works. Here are a couple of passages that draw the reader into a spell:
The rains came at last in late September, delivered by gales that stripped most trees bare in leas than a week. Leaves clogged the drains certain streets became navigable rivers, old couples were helped out of basement flats by policemen in waders, and there was a general feeling of crisis and excitement, at least on television.
By a frozen brook they passed the slab of rock under whose covering of snow, deep in the fissures, were the ingredients of a miniature tropical forest. Even by moonlight it was possible to see fat and sticky buds and unassuming ground plants raising tiny spears through the snow. One season was piercing another. In the smoothed-out spaces between trees, profusion waited its turn. The track turned toward the center of the wood. They descended into the hollow towards the rotten oak, an unchanged feature from the summer before.
We can endure terrible events if -- if we are presented with sympathetic characters, some hope of love, and absorbing creations of specific places. I'm hooked.


Annie said...

Hello...I clicked to you via Lois Lowry's blog comments. I agree with you about McEwan. He was daunting for me, too, since the synposes of his novels feel so heavy.

But the language! It's been a bit since I read Atonement but I still remember a passage about Briony looking out the window, with a stunning description of the floating sunbeams. Funny the passages that remain. (I've only read On Chesil Beach & Enduring Love but can recommend them both, too.) Happy reading.

JLH said...

Hi, Annie! Nice to hear from a Bostonian and fellow English major. (And I don't mind at all ending sentences with a preposition -- language is dynamic). I just finished LISTENING to a very good reading of Enduring Love from recorded Books. Depressing, but at least he leaves youa bit of hope that love will triumph. Now I'm wondering if all of his books involve violence. It heartens me to think that he's married and has children, so he's not a total misanthrope. Happy readng to you!