Lessons by Ian McEwan

I had more or less written McEwan off after loving several of his earlier books, after a series of what felt to me like failures – books about issues or ideas, not people (climate change, for instance, or AI). Using fiction in a way I don’t appreciate. Things that would’ve been rejected if they weren’t written by someone already famous.

Now he’s back to the personal, with some rather grand questions about human nature and the scope and meaning of a life. (The interests of a writer later in life?) How we end up where we are and where we might have been. Mistakes-or are they? The impact of external events, global political. What is a life worth living?

We span pretty much the entire life of Roland Baines, (though mercifully not from birth or through to death), including his piano teacher’s initiation of a sexual relationship when he’s just 14, and his marriage to Alissa, who leaves him and their 7-month-old son to become Europe’s greatest novelist. It’s not always subtle (he actually talks about Schrodinger’s cat) and especially toward the end there are a few plot points that stretch what l might believe, but on the whole it’s tender and vulnerable and personal and engaging.

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