Books by Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan is the author of nine novels, including Amsterdam, for which he won the Booker Prize in 1998, and Atonement.


THE COCKROACH by Ian McEwan
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Oct. 8, 2019

"A grimly effective entertainment, at once broad as a saber and pointed as a pike."
Kafka is brought up to date for the age of Brexit and Trump. Read full book review >
MACHINES LIKE ME by Ian McEwan
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: April 23, 2019

"McEwan is a gifted storyteller, but this one is as frustrating as it is intriguing."
The British author's latest novel concerns a triangle formed by two humans and one android in an alternate version of England. Read full book review >
NUTSHELL by Ian McEwan
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Sept. 13, 2016

"Clever, likable, and yet unsatisfying, this tale too often bears out the narrator's early claim: 'I take in everything, even the trivia—of which there is much.'"
Speaking from the womb of his 28-year-old mother, this slim entertainment's precocious narrator tells of sex and booze and something rotten in London. Read full book review >
THE CHILDREN ACT by Ian McEwan
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Sept. 9, 2014

"McEwan, always a smart, engaging writer, here takes more than one familiar situation and creates at every turn something new and emotionally rewarding in a way he hasn't done so well since OnChesil Beach (2007)."
In the late summer of 2012, a British judge faces a complex case while dealing with her husband's infidelity in this thoughtful, well-wrought novel. Read full book review >
SWEET TOOTH by Ian McEwan
Released: Nov. 13, 2012

"Britain's foremost living novelist has written a book—often as drily funny as it is thoughtful—that somehow both subverts and fulfills every expectation its protagonist has for fiction."
A subtly and sweetly subversive novel which seems more characteristic of its author as it becomes increasingly multilayered and labyrinthine in its masterful manipulation of the relationship(s) between fiction and truth. Read full book review >
ON CHESIL BEACH by Ian McEwan
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: June 5, 2007

" There are long novels that could have been even longer, and short novels that should have been even shorter. This latest from England's foremost contemporary novelist feels just right."
Size matters. Or so it seems with literature. From Dickens to Dostoevsky through Pynchon and Franzen, the culture typically equates great books with big books. Even with authors who have shown early mastery of the shorter form, such as James Joyce and Saul Bellow, such works are seen in retrospect as warm-ups for the longer novels on which their reputations rest. Read full book review >
SATURDAY by Ian McEwan
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: March 22, 2005

"A sort of middle-class humanist manifesto: when you find yourself fortunate beyond all measure in a random universe, gratitude, generosity, and compassion are a decent response."
An increasingly mellowed but no less gripping McEwan (Atonement, 2002, etc.) portrays a single day in the life of a well-off upper-middle-class Londoner, blessed in every conceivable way. Read full book review >
ATONEMENT by Ian McEwan
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: March 19, 2002

"With a sweeping bow to Virginia Woolf, McEwan combines insight, penetrating historical understanding, and sure-handed storytelling despite a conclusion that borrows from early postmodern narrative trickery. Masterful."
McEwan's latest, both powerful and equisite, considers the making of a writer, the dangers and rewards of imagination, and the juncture between innocence and awareness, all set against the late afternoon of an England soon to disappear. Read full book review >
AMSTERDAM by Ian McEwan
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Dec. 1, 1998

Winner of this year's Booker Prize, McEwan's latest (Black Dogs, 1992; Enduring Love, 1998) is a smartly written tale that devolves slowly into tricks and soapy vapors. When she dies of a sudden, rapidly degenerative illness, London glamour photographer Molly Lane is married to rich British publisher George Lane, although numerous erstwhile lovers still live and stir in the controversial Molly's wake. These high- visibility figures include internationally famed composer Clive Linley, racing now to complete his overdue magnum opus, a new symphony for the millennium; his close friend Vernon Halliday, the liberal, ambitious, idealistic editor of a London newspaper that's struggling hard to keep its readership; and right-winger Thatcherite Julian Garmony, now Britain's foreign secretary. The daily lives of these three high-profilers—though mostly of Clive and Vernon, who receive the main focus—are nothing if not interesting in the capable hands of McEwan, who shows himself more than plentifully knowledgeable in the details of journalism and music, describing with a Masterpiece Theater color and exactness the torments of composition and the rigors of keeping a big newspaper in business. The machinery of plot gradually takes over, though, when George finds, in Molly's left-behind things, three wildly incriminating sex-photos of the foreign secretary—and makes them available to Vernon Halliday, for whom the idea of bringing down the conservative Garmony (who's considering a run for PM) by publishing the pictures is irresistible. This plan of massive public humiliation, however, offends Clive Linley, who thinks of it as a deep betrayal of the dead Molly, and bitterness rises like a serpent in the Clive-Vernon friendship, hardly put to rest when Vernon learns of something morally dubious that Clive's just done—and that could, in fact, be made a nifty tool of revenge. And so things progress via trick, counter-trick, and backfire, in a novelistic try for a big ending that just gets littler instead. Middle-brow fiction British style, strong on the surface, vapid at the center. Read full book review >
ENDURING LOVE by Ian McEwan
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Feb. 1, 1998

A sad, chilling, precise exploration of deranged love, by the author of, among other works, the novels The Innocent (1990) and Black Dogs (1992). Joe Rose, a middle-aged science writer, takes his wife Clarissa to London's Hampstead Heath for a picnic—and stumbles into a tragedy when a man and his young grandson, on a jaunt by balloon, get into serious trouble. Joe is among the bystanders who race to seize the balloon, which is damaged, close to the ground, and being pushed by high winds toward a precipice. One of the rescuers dies. In the aftermath, Joe exchanges words with Jed Parry, a deeply disturbed young man among those who came rushing to help. Isolated, independently wealthy, Parry has attempted to suppress his homosexual inclinations by immersing himself in a fervent and very personal version of Christianity. Parry quickly fixates on Joe, and, deciding that he is meant to be the means by which Joe, a nonbeliever, will be brought back to God, Parry begins haunting him. He shadows Joe's movements around London, loiters outside his apartment, constantly leaves messages and letters. It's not only God's love that Parry believes he's carrying; he's also, in a confused and only partially conscious manner, convinced that Joe loves him and knows everything about him. Joe's increasingly angry attempts to rid himself of Parry seem to the obsessed man only another test of his devotion, while Joe and Clarissa's marriage begins to crumble under the strain, as do their careers. Finally, a desperate Parry decides he must get rid of Clarissa and, possibly, even Joe himself. In lesser hands, the story might be overwrought and unbelievable, but McEwan's terse, lucid prose and sure grasp of character give resonance to this superb anatomy of obsession and exploration of the mind under extreme circumstance. Painful and powerful work by one of England's best novelists. Read full book review >
THE DAYDREAMER by Ian McEwan
FAMILY AND GROWING UP
Released: Sept. 30, 1994

Adults think that Peter Fortune is a difficult child because he sits by himself and stares into space. But, except for resultant absentmindedness, like forgetting his little sister on a bus, Peter's daydreams are usually harmless flights of fancy. The Daydreamer includes seven of these flights and four of them—"The Dolls," "The Cat," "The Baby," and "The Grown-Up"—are metamorphosis experiences. "The Cat" is a beautiful story that tells of Peter's spirit climbing into the body of his old house cat, William. While in William's body, Peter experiences life as a cat and fights William's last territorial battle for him. Some of Peter's other experiences are less benign. For example, many children flirt with the idea of making their families disappear, but the way Peter goes about it in "Vanishing Cream" is rather gruesome. And when Peter verbally defeats the school bully in "The Bully," Peter himself acknowledges that his words are unduly harsh. Although McEwan presents Peter as a sweet introvert, Peter proves himself to be far from that. Novelist McEwan's first book for children contains some magical moments but is marred by being often repetitive and occasionally mean-spirited. (Fiction. 8+) Read full book review >
BLACK DOGS by Ian McEwan
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Nov. 1, 1992

As in McEwan's last novel, The Innocent (1990), the Berlin Wall plays an important symbolic role in this fictional meditation on evil—a pseudo-memoir written from a post-cold-war perspective. The narrator, orphaned in his youth, has always been infatuated with his friends' parents and with the "comfort and the conventions of his elders." After a lifetime of leaving places and people, he has now, in his 30s, found home in his own marriage and family. And he's particularly fascinated by his in-laws, a somewhat glamorous couple who split up after a few years of marriage, despite their undying love for each other. What came between them is nothing less than the defining issue of the century. While both Bernard and June Tremaine shared a youthful commitment to communism, Bernard maintains his materialistic view of things—even after he abandons the Party for mainstream Labour politics and a career as a popular pundit. June, on the other hand, rejects rationalism after a singular, profound incident in southern France while on her honeymoon in the late 40's. There, her confrontation with evil—manifest in some terrifying dogs left by the occupying Nazis—leads to her spiritual awakening and a life dedicated to meditation. The narrator, who professes disinterest ("I had no attachments, I believed in nothing"), nevertheless stacks things in June's favor. After all, the Berlin Wall is a testament to the very ideas clung to by Bernard. Despite his professed doubt, the narrator's own "haunting" forces him to recognize the power of June's contention that evil lurks within us all. McEwan explores the personal consequences of political ideas in this remarkably precise little novel. His lapidary prose neatly disguises his search for transcendence. Read full book review >
THE INNOCENT by Ian McEwan
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: June 25, 1990

McEwan's latest—his best shot at a popular novel—is something of a departure from his previous work (The Child in Time, The Comfort of Strangers, etc.), but no less skillful in design or execution. Part romance, part murder mystery, and part spy intrigue, this cool tale of postwar Berlin relies on a number of historical and dramatic ironies for its punch. As the Cold War begins to freeze, Leonard Marnham, a shy and dithering young electrician from England, is assigned to work on a top-secret, Anglo-American project in West Berlin. With no experience in intelligence, the "clumsy, reticent" Brit is soon engulfed in a world of secrecy. Bob Glass, Leonard's gruff Yank superior, considers the English inept and sloppy, incapable of seeing secrecy as the essence of individuality. For over a year, they have to work together on a massive piece of spying—the creation of an underground tunnel into the Russian sector that will allow the CIA and MI6 to tap master phonelines. As Leonard and Glass develop an improbable friendship, neither knows that the Russians have been on to them since the beginning. Meanwhile, Leonard—the most obvious "innocent" here—loses his virginity to a 30-year-old German woman, Maria Eckdorf, and begins a relationship that must also be shrouded in secrecy. Just as they settle into the miserable ordinariness of living together, they're visited by Maria's ex-husband, a violent drank, whom Leonard kills in self. defense. Fearing disbelief, the young couple attempt to cover up their crime, of which they're technically innocent. But the difficulties of dumping a hacked-up body lead Leonard back to his workplace, and also cause him to betray the project. When the Russians crash through the tunnel—for reasons unrelated to Leonard's conscious treason—he's eventually called home, but his once-pure love for Maria has been irreparably defiled. A coda, set 30 years later, solves many of the remaining mysteries, and suggests the depth of innocence and false knowledge at play back in the days of high-spying. McEwan's clinical account of dismemberment reminds us of the dark imagination displayed in his other work—it's also bound to turn off the wider audience who would otherwise enjoy this clean and clever fiction. Read full book review >
THE CHILD IN TIME by Ian McEwan
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Sept. 29, 1987

With none of his previous delight in things macabre, McEwan sets a story of domestic horror against a disorienting exploration in time, and ends up with a work of remarkable intellectual and political sophistication—his most expansive and passionate fiction to date. The time of the novel is an era not so unlike our own; the licensed beggars working the London streets are a product of post-Thatcher extremism—a period of even further privatization and more brutal self-interest. Stephen Lewis, once a countercultural type, then a successful children's book author, now sleepwalks through the neo-Hobbesian landscape. Having had his three-year, old daughter stolen in the supermarket, he's also lost his wife, Julie, a violinist who shares a "perverse collusion in unhappiness" with her guilt-ridden spouse. The only interruption in his routine of booze and the boob-tube is his weekly committee meetings at Whitehall on Reading and Writing subcommittee of the Official Commission on Child Care. Stephen's friend and former publisher, Charles Drake, a self-made millionaire and rightist M.P., is being groomed for greater things by the P.M. But after appointing Stephen to the Commission, Charles abandons politics in pursuit of the childhood he never had. While his wife, a former professor, writes about the physics of time, Charles—now "completely mad"—retreats into his life-threatening treehouse. Stephen meanwhile wanders in and out of time, reliving that tragic day at the market, recalling his own childhood as an RAF brat, and experiencing in the present a number of infantilizing episodes. Once he realizes, though, that "all the sorrow. . .had been enclosed within meaningful time, within the richest unfolding conceivable," he recovers from his political quiescence, his creative doldrums, and, most importantly, the numbness which delayed mourning. With spiritual rebirth comes a literal birth—Julie and Stephen's, and McEwan's, quiet affirmation of life. Though intensely cinematic, this subtle and complex novel would require a director of like narrative daring and imaginative genius. Read full book review >
THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS by Ian McEwan
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: June 1, 1981

The Ian McEwan paradox continues. As before (The Cement Garden, In Between the Sheets), he writes some of the cleanest, most sparely seductive narration this side of Graham Greene. Also as before, what his page-by-page craft sweeps you along to is a virtual dead end: a kinky, symbolic sexual situation which is neither effective as storytelling nor freshly resonant as metaphor. Here he follows an unmarried English couple, Colin and Mary, on vacation in an unnamed, Venice-like city. They are beautiful, bright, liberated, a bit androgynous, and having a mostly miserable time. Then, one night, wandering the streets in search of a restaurant, they meet Robert—a wealthy native (though London-bred) who squires them about, regales them with tales of his childhood (strict training in old-fashioned European sex roles), and spirits them off to his splendid villa. . . where his demure, smiling Canadian wife Adrienne seems to be in constant pain, perhaps a prisoner. Other oddnesses accumulate as well: Robert, who seems at least latently homosexual, punches Colin in the stomach after delivering a tirade on the misery caused by today's sex-role confusion; Mary sees a secretly-snapped photo of Colin on Robert's wall. But the lovers continue—with exasperating passivity (or have they been drugged?)—to hang around with these weirdos. . . until it's too late: Adrienne confesses her sadomasochistic conjugal life (Robert even broke her back); Colin becomes the sex/death sacrifice of the odd couple; and Mary is left to announce McEwan's theme—"how the imagination, the sexual imagination, men's ancient dreams of hurting, and women's of being hurt, embodied and declared a powerful single organizing principle, which distorted all relations, all truth." Plausible psycho-sociology, perhaps—but a thunderingly clunky ending to a novella whose first half promises important fiction. So, once again, McEwan seems to be a huge talent constricted by the need to preach, philosophize, or work out private obsessions; and one can only hope that writing beguiling but disappointing essay-stories like this one will free him to write more wide-ranging, full-visioned fiction in the future. Read full book review >
IN BETWEEN THE SHEETS by Ian McEwan
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Aug. 1, 1979

Seven stories by the gifted author of The Cement Garden (1978), who keeps his deadpan cool while twisting male-female relations into lean, macabre parables—a technique that is always intriguing but only occasionally absorbing. The gimmickiest tales here are also the neatest: "Reflections of a Kept Ape" not only reverses old male and female roles—the narrator is a stay-at-home, cast-off male whining and mooning for his busy love's attention—but hilariously makes the lovesick parody-lover a gibbering ape who happens to write immaculate, rather baroque prose; and "Dead as They Come" takes the woman-as-sex-object (and woman as orgasm-seeker) to its natural ad absurdum—not the first story about a man in love with a mannequin, but surely both the funniest and ugliest. Less surreal are a creepy but predictable tale of a half-baked Casanova whose women take the usual revenge ("We'll leave you a pretty little stump to remember us by")—and the title story, the most human of all: a divorced father wrestles with the closeness between paternal and erotic love for his pubescent, visiting daughter. With three other fragmentary pieces that don't achieve much impact, this slim collection is hardly McEwan at his best (he remains a writer of tremendous style who seems limited by his obsessions), but at the very least it reinforces his position as the Roald DaM for the sexually-eruptive 1970s. Read full book review >
THE CEMENT GARDEN by Ian McEwan
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Oct. 1, 1978

There can be nothing but praise for how Ian McEwan writes: in his short stories (First Love, Last Rites, 1975) and in this new novella, he glories in the secret of how uninflected, almost unbearably lean, plain prose can grip, can scream without a single exclamation point. What McEwan writes is perhaps less cause for dancing in the streets. Here he returns to some of the adolescent preoccupations that peeked through the stories—masturbation, sibling sex—and, though all this is handled with impeccable taste and invested with authentic bitter-sweetness, one longs for adult material to match the fully matured style. Still, except for one aggressively Oedipal coincidence and an incestuous finale, The Cement Garden's adolescent sensibility works, on its own terms, quietly and stunningly. The Oedipal coincidence: acne-infested, broody narrator Jack, second oldest of four children, has his first ejaculation just as his frail father drops dead outside—father has been surrounding their English urban house with an even plane of concrete to cover the dirt and grass. With father gone and mother taking to her bed, the children—Jack, older Julie, younger Sue, little Tom—tussle for power, for each other's affection, and for attention from their mother, who has tired of doctors and one day quietly dies in bed. As in so many similar stories, the children fear being separated and so bury mother in the cellar, surrounding her with wet cement left over from father's weird concrete project. Now parentless, the house fills with debris and the children deteroriate: Julie attracts a pool-shark beau; Sue drifts off into reveries about mother; Tom wants to be a girl (his sisters approve and dress him up); Jack becomes obsessed with a science-fiction novel, a gutted nearby hi-rise, and masturbation. Only Jack and Julie's ultimate sexual coming-together—which, seen by the furious boyfriend, brings on the end of the children's closed-off world—seems staged for effect. And, most impressive of all, this grim little tale is somehow suffused with light and warmth. Having worked such wonders with such intrinsically stunted material, McEwan calls attention to his undeniable talent. If he and his characters can stretch to measure up to that prose, we may be watching a major novelist in the making. Read full book review >
FIRST LOVE, LAST RITES by Ian McEwan
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: June 1, 1975

McEwan is a young Englishman whose first collection of short stories (five have appeared in little magazines) has been compared to Dahl and Collier. There are no elements of fine drawn invention and surprise here—only too literally does he manage to soil his hands. Most of them feature a nameless narrator of perverse preoccupations—like the one who graduates from whiskey, pot and masturbation but bypasses the prospect of Zulu Lulu for "Homemade" first sex with his kid sister. Little girls are never safe in McEwan's world: take the one who is promised a vista of "Butterflies" on a promenade down the path by a canal before she is assaulted and later drowns. There's the infantile retrograde in "Conversations with a Cupboard Man" who is finally sent packing by the mother who kept him that way to find a sanctuary in his attic room womb; there's another fatal accident in "Last Day of Summer"; a problem of "Solid Geometry"—the cleverest of the lot—you may not quite solve; the title story which reduces to the killing of a rat who has been scrabbling behind a wall of books; and finally the drag malice of "Disguises." Provocation of a sort, but is it really justified by such an overwhelming fetor? Read full book review >