When my second son was a toddler he once said, on being asked to try some food, let's say spinach, "I can't like spinach!'
I wanted to like Ian McEwen, and I couldn’t. I thought I tried. But not really. I read the N.Y. Times review of The Child in Time and The Cement Garden, and I thought “Never!” No matter that he was said to be articulate, a fine writer even, and that he looked smart, well-aged, and handsome – when I read what he wrote about, I thought, Never. Too depressing. Then along came a novel that sounded amenable and interesting, so I read Atonement, and it wasn’t horrifying, but I never quite got it, though it buzzed about me.
So now that the movie is upon us, I thought it was time to read the book again, and to do it justice – listen to its prose, its voice, what’s going on and how it’s told, and see who among the characters might be engaging. And now I see – it’s Briony, and I’m sucked in and open to all the book’s charms.
And here’s a clue as to how to read it:
[Of Briony, years later, as a writer:] "She need not judge. There did not have to be a moral. She need only show separate minds, as alive as her own, struggling with the idea that other minds were equally alive."
Atonement, p.38 (Doubleday/Nan A. Talese hc)
Well, isn’t this what fiction is all about? Yes, but I for one have to be able to identify with one or more characters, to sympathize. I guess after this it’ll be time to take a look at The Child in Time. Of which, more later.