Ian McEwan - which one first?

(62 Posts)
AnonYonimousBird Sun 21-Apr-13 11:32:48

I'd really like to read one of his, not sure how I never have.

Which one would be a good one to start me off please?


NotALondoner Sun 21-Apr-13 11:40:41

Atonement? I loved that.

Really? I hated Atonement & it's put me off reading any others. I came on here to say don't bother!

tangledupinpoo Sun 21-Apr-13 12:37:09

I really enjoyed The Innocent, Black Dogs and A Child in Time. Not sure I could read A Child in Time now I have children though. (The story centres round a child disappearing in a supermarket.) But the ideas in it, the nature of time etc are great. I remember that about Black Dogs too. The Innocent is a clever thriller. On Chesil Beach is good too. I did like Atonement too.

The ones I didn't like so much were Amsterdam, Solar, Enduring Love and Saturday.

SirBoobAlot Sun 21-Apr-13 12:40:24

I can't stand his writing. I have read a few of his books, hoping that I just started with a bad one, but nope. They're all pretty poorly written. Shame, really, as the story lines are good.

PimpMyHippo Sun 21-Apr-13 12:42:29

None of them!

....in my humble opinion. ;)

tangledupinpoo Sun 21-Apr-13 12:46:20

Really, SirBoob? I love how he writes! What don't you like about it - not being at all snippy, just genuinely interested.

DuchessofMalfi Sun 21-Apr-13 13:47:06

Atonement's the only one of his novels I've read so far, and I loved it.

I'm planning to read On Chesil Beach next.

AnonYonimousBird Sun 21-Apr-13 14:17:28

I am being SO DENSE. I have read On Chesil Beach quite recently. blush

I did enjoy it, actually so need to select my second McEwan. He has a new one out, Sweet Tooth, which was in yesterday's Times which is what got me to thinking about him...

Atonement is on my TBR list! Is it really heavy?! Seems to divide opinions!

MamaMary Sun 21-Apr-13 14:21:46

Solar is my favourite. It's pretty heavy going at first but it's brill.

Didn't like Saturday so much.

I also liked Amsterdam.

highlandcoo Sun 21-Apr-13 14:22:20

I thought On Chesil Beach was excellent and also enjoyed Atonement, Saturday and Enduring Love. I agree with tangled about A child In Time .. it's a painful read but extremely well written.

Autumn12 Sun 21-Apr-13 14:23:27

I really want to like his books but he really overwrites IMO.

tumbletumble Sun 21-Apr-13 14:26:59

I loved Atonement - one of my favourite books.

Quite enjoyed Saturday.

Not that keen on On Chesil Beach.

Solar is on my to read list.

Ugh - none of them. I've read four I iirc (Atonement, Enduring Love, The Cement Garden and A Child In Time). The only one that I thought was okay was The Cement Garden.

louisianablue2000 Sun 21-Apr-13 14:31:50

Parts of Atonement are brilliant, the section in the hospital is some of the most memorable writing I've read. For me it's still my favourite Ian McEwan, I found Enduring Love unsatisfactory (but had been told by so many people it was fab that expectation was high!), didn't mind Saturday but it wore his research rather heavily I thought, The Innocent is not my kind of book (thriller) so didn't enjoy it, liked On Chesil Beach. I do like the way he writes so I think it depends on what the subject is for me.

interalia Mon 22-Apr-13 22:39:48

I loved Atonement. It's not heavy, exactly, but very moving. His early ones are really weird, The Cement Garden for instance - I felt grimy just reading it! Amsterdam is also very good.

CoteDAzur Tue 23-Apr-13 09:07:10

"I have read a few of his books, hoping that I just started with a bad one, but nope. They're all pretty poorly written."

So, this guy is basically one of the most acclaimed British writers ever, with nominations and awards falling on him left, right, and center like manna from the sky, but your professional opinion is that his books are... all pretty poorly written grin

I like your self-confidence, but dare say you are a bit wrong there smile

Minkypinky Tue 23-Apr-13 09:13:59

When I was 13 my English teacher leant me a copy of first love last rites. (no idea why!). It gave me nightmares for months. Having said that I love his books now, enduring love is probably my favourite.

I wasn't so keen on Saturday, but I love all his early books - the cement garden, a child in time etc, and his short stories.

I think he's such a good writer, and his books are all so different.

Minky's reminded me of the name of the short stories - first love, last rites. Brilliant.

UseHerName Tue 23-Apr-13 09:23:31

I agree with Boob actually - with the exception of A Child in Time. Mainly he can't write plausible women.

His female characters are woefully one-dimensional caricatures, and his plots sexist/misogynist. Chesil Beach was cringe worthy drivel, as was Amsterdam and Saturday.

Corygal Tue 23-Apr-13 12:51:14

First love last rites! His short stories and first publications. Brilliantly weird. If you want novels, try The Cement Garden.

Cote - you've told people off for saying that about Ian M before. I agree that his books are quite poorly written, mainly because they radiate a sense of smugness: that must be to do with his writing style. In the same way, Wolf Hall got lots of critical acclaim but I still maintain that it is not very well written - what some may see as idiosyncracies (or indeed, as genius) others may view as inadequacies, or at least irritations. That doesn't make either view right (or wrong).

CoteDAzur Tue 23-Apr-13 17:34:27

Who is "Ian M"?

You don't like his writing style because you feel he is smug, which is perfectly fine. It is a subjective opinion. You don't have to like everyone's writing style.

However, "poorly written" is an objective assessment and in the case of Ian McEwan, is just not correct.

Ian McEwan.

Poorly written is an opinion - there isn't a measure of writing quality, just like there isn't a measure of artistic merit for paintings. It HAS to be subjective.

BikeRunSki Tue 23-Apr-13 17:39:28

i've read them all, and would start with The Cement Garden and Black Dogs.

CoteDAzur Tue 23-Apr-13 17:42:01

Written well or written poorly = Assessment of the quality of writing = objective.

I didn't like it, I hated it, I felt it just radiates smugness and I can't take it = subjective.

You have every right to say what you feel, even if it's all negative about a great writer (subjective) but it looks a bit silly to say that a great writer writes "poorly".

bigkidsdidit Tue 23-Apr-13 17:43:08

I can't bear his writing, and I have tried.

I really wouldn't bother.

bigkidsdidit Tue 23-Apr-13 17:43:59

Cote isn't the fact that he is a 'great writer' subjective opinion

I certainly don't agree with that

matildawormwood Tue 23-Apr-13 17:44:04


I haven't read his last books, but the collected stories is superb as is The comfort of strangers.

We will never agree on this, Cote. You think he's great; I think he's crap. I think he's crap because he writes poorly and I maintain that, 'He writes poorly' is a subjective opinion based on what the reader does and doesn't like in a writer.

Now - haven't you got, 'Of Human Bondage' or something to get your head into?


the collected stories book , I mean, First love last rites

Yes, BigKid - 'He is a great writer' is just as subjective as, 'He is a crap writer.'

orangina Tue 23-Apr-13 17:51:46

Loved them all except Atonement which I couldn't get through (not sure why, just didn't "click" with me......). Not sure I could stomach A Child in Time now though..... You could start with The Innocent? The Cement Garden definitely one of his more "out there" books (and one of his earliest I think?)

CoteDAzur Tue 23-Apr-13 23:20:56

Remus - We should be able to agree on something so simple.

"He is a bad/crap writer" or "He is a good writer" are not subjective remarks. Good or bad writing can be objectively assessed with characterisation, plot, insight, etc. Whether or not you like his style, Ian McEwan is one of the most widely acclaimed British writers. Calling his writing "crap" just makes you look bad.

Feel free to say "I don't like his writing" or "I hate his style" or whatever. That is your personal opinion. It is subjective. And you have every right to say your feelings about everything.

CoteDAzur Tue 23-Apr-13 23:22:41

"'He is a great writer' is just as subjective as, 'He is a crap writer.'"

Neither is subjective.

Do you think that he has received all these awards, nominations, etc because some people like his style?

I guess this begs the question: Do you think that there is no objective criteria by which books can be judged as good or bad?

interalia Tue 23-Apr-13 23:28:04

I found that they varied a lot. I thought Atonement and On Chesil Beach were brilliant. The Cement Garden very creepy. A Child In Time a bit mad. Solar - couldn't finish it. Enduring Love - liked it, but something didn't quite click.

For me, he comes unstuck most often with plot; I find it either tapers off or twists too weirdly. I love his writing style though.

CoteDAzur Tue 23-Apr-13 23:32:31

His forté is definitely not the plot but his insight into the thoughts and feelings of his characters.

EleanorFarjeon Tue 23-Apr-13 23:38:45

I have read everything he's published and liked them all.

Did my dissertation on his writing.

Very thought provoking imo.

interalia Tue 23-Apr-13 23:52:50

Oh - Saturday also. I started off thinking it was incredibly smug, but then realised that was the point. It was about living a seemingly perfect life but actually being terrified of all the outside forces that could potentially destroy it.

Thewhingingdefective Wed 24-Apr-13 09:00:45

I'm not a fan. I find his work totally unmoving, but I would say to start with The Cement Garden. That is the one that had the strongest impact on me out of the four or five I have read.

hackmum Wed 24-Apr-13 09:18:53

interalia: "I find it either tapers off or twists too weirdly."

Yup. I think he can be brilliant (the opening chapters of Atonement are superb), but I am always disappointed and even angry at the endings. The ending of the most recent one (name escapes me) absolutely infuriated me.

C'ote are you Ian McEwan in disguise? Or just his biggest fan?

Anything creative has to be judged subjectively, whether something is good or bad is down to personal taste.

E.g. 50 Shades of Grey is one of the worst books I've ever had the misfortune to read, yet it's sold millions & millions.

Ian McEwan has sold millions of books & won awards but I daresay even on the judging committee there were people who didn't want him to win that particular award, it again comes down to personal taste.

I'm waffling now so I'll stop (no awards for me hmm)

CoteDAzur Wed 24-Apr-13 14:17:44

No, I am not actually that great a fan, although I do recognise that he is a great writer.

This isn't just about Ian McEwan, but he is a good example: You would think that people stop and think before they dubbed "crap" or "poor writer" an author who has been so widely recognised as not only good but great, but strangely, that is not the case for everyone.

"Anything creative has to be judged subjectively"

Not entirely. Think of architecture. You might like a building or hate it (subjective) and you may also assess whether it is built well or really poorly (objective).

"whether something is good or bad is down to personal taste"

No, that would be whether you like something or not.

Good/bad is an assessment of quality, and as such, should be objective.

"E.g. 50 Shades of Grey is one of the worst books I've ever had the misfortune to read, yet it's sold millions & millions"

I didn't say bestsellers must be great books and their writers geniuses hmm I pointed out the awards, worldwide recognition, nominations, fellowships etc that Ian McEwan had in his writing career, by people who thankfully know to make such quality assessments on objective grounds.

TheOriginalSteamingNit Wed 24-Apr-13 14:22:00

'Poorly written' is not subjective. There are many issues one might have with Ian McEwan, but his writing is not poor.

CoteDAzur Wed 24-Apr-13 14:23:09

Thank you. Finally, someone who understands what I'm talking about.

TheOriginalSteamingNit Wed 24-Apr-13 14:29:13

I think people often like to give their subjective response to a text more weight by making it about the 'quality of the writing' rather than admitting it's just something they personally feel. And then turn it around again by arguing that all critical evaluation is subjective and arbitrary and if you think it, you can't be wrong.

There's a brilliant bit in a Salinger short story, where a disgruntled wife is complaining that her husband's favourite book is about a bunch of guys who die in a snow storm, and she says 'you know why he says he likes it? because it's so beautifully written for chrissake. He can't even just admit he likes it because it's about a bunch of guys dying'.

If I mark an essay, my evaluation of whether it is well written or poorly written is not just my subjective thoughts about how good I think the argument is. It's my assessment of how well someone has structured his or her sentence, how carefully he or she has made the argument, and how logically it flows (among other things).

kalidasa Wed 24-Apr-13 14:29:49

They are quite readable but he is totally overrated. No one will be reading him (or even have heard of him) in a hundred years, I am quite sure.

Technically speaking, all his novels are essentially expanded short stories - in that they are about or revolve around a particular moment, experience or idea. So the longer they get the weaker they are. His early short stories ('First Love, Last Rites') are nasty but effective; more interesting than the later stuff. I admit I haven't read his more recent short stories though.

Of the novels, I haven't read the last couple but on the whole I think the earlier ones are better. Though I actually quite enjoyed 'Saturday' even though the point above about undigested research (and v. weak writing of female characters) is definitely true.

Wilding Wed 24-Apr-13 14:47:02

The Child in Time is my favourite, it's a bit crazy but also very readable. I also like Black Dogs, Enduring Love and Saturday but the rest of his books that I've read I haven't enjoyed in the slightest. Definitely don't start with Atonement, it'll put you off for life.

BaconAndAvocado Wed 24-Apr-13 15:00:13

I agree he is an excellent writer in terms of craft/technical ability. One of Britain's best

I loved Atonement, Enduring Love and The Cement Garden.

Didn't like Amsterdam orBlack Dogs but still recognise his overall skill, these particular books just weren't for me.

I guess I base whether someone is good or bad depending on whether I enjoy reading their work or not, i.e. it's a 'good' book if I enjoy it, it's a 'crap' book if I didn't. Normally I give a writer the benefit of the doubt & try a few books before dismissing them as crap, however I loathed Atonement with such a passion that I have absolutely no desire to repeat the experience.

However, in my defence, if I am calling someone crap I do tend to add 'in my opinion'. I do also think all the arts have a certain amount of 'emperor's new clothes' about them & no-one wants to be the person who stands up & says 'this is awful', Tracey Emin being a case in point (in my opinion).

TheOriginalSteamingNit Wed 24-Apr-13 15:55:18

I loathe Dickens, I don't enjoy reading his books and I don't appreciate the kind of book he wrote. I would never presume to make the ridiculous judgment based on that that his books are crap. Any more than the fact that I will sometimes guiltily enjoy a Jill Mansell in the bath makes her a good writer grin.

Essays can be marked against a set of specific success criteria though - has the writer supported his/her opinions with relevant and well chosen quotations; has the writer considered a range of critical opinions etc etc. Creative works, on the other hand, can be assessed in terms of if the writer can construct effective sentences / use punctuation effectively etc, but in terms of whether the text works as a whole to engage the reader that can only be measured by the reader response - and whether or not the text works for that reader or not allows them to form an (entirely subjective) decision about whether the text is any good. Trying to make it objective is like trying to assess the merit of an art work by the thickness of the brushstrokes.

TheOriginalSteamingNit Wed 24-Apr-13 19:42:54

No, that reader can offer his/her experience of how engaged they felt with the text, how convincing they found the story, and perhaps how much they felt the text did work to engage them - but their opinions on all of those things aren't an evaluation on how 'well written' the text is.

So your first points about creative works (do they have effective sentences/use punctuation effectively etc) are the ones which are relevant - and are objective - in terms of deciding whether a text is 'well written', and your second are to do with how you would personally assess it.

Of course there can always be debate about how great/effective/significant a text is, but 'well written' and 'poorly written' aren't matters of opinion in the same way.

Does anyone have an example of the poor writing they are thinking of in Ian McEwan, by the way?

MamaMary Wed 24-Apr-13 20:17:46

Solar is not one long 'short story'. It has a plot, a cracking one at that. I think it's his best. Certainly the one that gripped me the most and the only one I can remember much about apart from Atonement but that's cos of the film

Cooroo Thu 25-Apr-13 17:13:12

No mention of Solar? It's too long, but that sequence where he thinks his dick has dropped off is one of the funniest things I've read.

I started on the short stories back when they were the only things he'd published - First Love Last Rites and In Between the Sheets. Loved them. At the time (1980s?) they seemed very different and exciting to me. Haven't re-read though.

kalidasa Thu 25-Apr-13 17:24:17

OK MamaMary, will reread Solar and see if I agree!

valiumredhead Fri 26-Apr-13 08:19:28

I can't stand his books either.

Atonement is the only film that has every been better than the book imo grin

PimpMyHippo Fri 26-Apr-13 12:28:13

I studied Saturday as a first year English lit student, and everybody in the class hated it... We were all amazed that it had won so many awards! I totally agree with someone upthread who said it wore its research heavily - I didn't mind so much with the lengthy lectures about brain surgery, because at least that's quite interesting, but when there were about ten pages detailing one game of squash... OH MY GOD. It took me ages to finish the book because every time I tried to read more than a few pages I fell asleep! Maybe I'm just terribly low-brow and failed to "get" how magnificent his writing was.... but it was the only book I ever studied that was universally disliked by all my classmates.

BumgrapesofWrath Fri 26-Apr-13 12:41:25

I certainly think he is overrated, tried Atonement and Chesil Beach several times and can never get through them. I have kept attempting as he is so critically acclaimed, I thought it was my problem. I've now decided the books are a load of toss and that life is too short...

Grapes - succinctly put!

'The Hunger Games' film is better than the book. I couldn't bring myself to watch, 'Atonement' after the horror of the book.

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