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 >
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