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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?


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.

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...

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.

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

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

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

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.

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

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?

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 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.

MrsHelsBels74 Wed 24-Apr-13 15:39:16

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).

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.

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.

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.

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).

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

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

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

'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 14:17:44

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.

MrsHelsBels74 Wed 24-Apr-13 11:46:08

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)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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