The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle was on my Most Anticipated Fiction of 2016 list. It sounded like a really interesting story and, according to reports, had a really great twist. I gave it a chance but wasn’t exactly wowed by it. I thought that the twist was pretty obvious and I just wasn’t a fan of Searle’s writing. So, you may be asking, why was I in such a rush to see the film? Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen, of course. I guess I was also interested to see how the story worked on screen. Maybe the story of an elderly con artist and his naive victim would come together in this way? Or maybe it would be just as tragic and awful as King of Thieves? Boy, cinema doesn’t really do much for older men. Don’t get me wrong, women have it way worse but old men don’t have it easy either.
Autumn by Ali Smith might well have taken the title of “the first Brexit novel” but, really, ever since the result in 2016, we’ve just been waiting for every British writer to churn out there own. Machines Like Me introduced us to Ian McEwan’s anger about the decision to take the UK out of the EU. In his alternate 80s timeline, British Prime Minister Tony Benn decides to take the UK out of the European Union without a second referendum. The writer hasn’t hidden his feelings about the current state of politics in this country so it was clear this wouldn’t be the last we heard about it. And, lo and behold, a few weeks ago it was announced that McEwan was set to release a surprise new novella. The work would be a political satire of “an old tradition”. Now, I’ve had an odd relationship with McEwan over my lifetime. When I was a teenage I read everything he wrote with glee. I loved his works. Enduring Love, Atonement, Saturday, and his short story collections were regularly recommended to everyone I could find. But, over the years, I’ve found myself less inclined to try out his new stuff. I loved On Chesil Beach but, until this year, that was the last recent book of his I opened. And then, Machines Like Me wasn’t anywhere near as good as I was hoping. Still, this was a novella and its mustard yellow. I do so love yellow things. I decided it was worth a try.
One of my best friends works for Vintage books so she is constantly offering to pick up cheap books for me. I know I know. I’m making it sound like a bad thing when it’s not. The only problem is that I never remember to ask her. I buy the book myself and then have to put up her with telling me she could have got it for me. So, when I heard about Ian McEwan’s latest book dealing with AI, I knew this was one of the times I should take her up on it. I was a massive fan of Ian McEwan as a teenager but I’ve lost my way over the last few years. Basically, everything after On Chesil Beach has remained unread on my shelf. And I’ve been okay with that. Sweet Tooth and Solar I wasn’t that interested in but I did really want to read The Children Act and Nutshell. Honestly, I did. I just never got round to it. But this one sounded interesting. An alternate reality 1980s where AI technology exists. Part of me was worried, though. AI has become a bit of a thing in literature recently and I wasn’t sure that McEwan was the best to add to the conversation. But, I couldn’t let my friend down again.
When I was younger, I was a huge Ian McEwan fan. I first read Enduring Love and I adored it. He had such a way about his writing that I wanted to read everything else I could get my hands on. His short stories were creative and experimental. His novels got to the heart of their characters. He was a massive influence on me. On Chesil Beach was the last of his novels that I bought, though. It wasn’t that I hated it… well I did but only because of how awkward and real it was. It was such a fantastically written book but such a horrible reading experience! I just think I overdosed on him. So, when Sweet Tooth came out and it sounded so meh I just thought “maybe not”. But I’ve always wanted to go back. I own copies of both Solar and The Nutshell but I never got round to reading them. I decided that I had to make a point of reading this short story though. First published in The New Yorker in 2016, My Purple Scented Novel was released as a booklet in 2018 in honour of 70th birthday. And it just felt like something I needed to read. I owed it to McEwan and I owed it to my younger self. Of course, I do have a tendency to be melodramatic. It was probably more that it just sounded really interesting.
When I was a teenager Ian McEwan was one of my favourite authors. I used to read everything I could. I started with Enduring Love and went from there. There is something about the way he writes characters and constructs a narrative that I was mad about. But I have to admit that I haven’t really bothered with him in recent years. I bought Sweet Tooth but, never being blown away by the synopsis, it remains unread. The Nut Shell was one of my must reads but it’s sat in my TBR pile for far too long. I’ve certainly let my appreciation of McEwan lapse over the years. It was, in fact, On Chesil Beach that was my last read by the writer. I absolutely loved it but it was a difficult read. It’s so awkwardly British and repressed but so fantastically written. It’s a fabulous character study about two young people trying to do their marital duty whilst living in a sexually repressed era. It made me physically cringe as I read it but I could not stop reading. So, I was fairly excited by the decision to adapt the novel, especially as it stars my newest love Saoirse Ronan. However, as we also know, Ian McEwan novels are often hard to adapt. So much of his novel is the inner thoughts of his characters and that’s pretty problematic. And On Chesil Beach is even more insular and held-back than most of this novels. I just couldn’t see how it could be done justice.