A Novel
Email this review


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.
Pub Date: June 25th, 1990
ISBN: 0385494335
Page count: 271pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1990


FictionNUTSHELL by Ian McEwan
by Ian McEwan
FictionTHE CHILDREN ACT by Ian McEwan
by Ian McEwan
FictionSWEET TOOTH by Ian McEwan
by Ian McEwan


Indie66 METRES by J.F. Kirwan
by J.F. Kirwan
FictionTHE EDGE OF THE FALL by Kate Williams
by Kate Williams
IndieAN INTERLUDE IN BERLIN by Jefferson Flanders
by Jefferson Flanders