"Under the Covers: Ian McEwan (In person)." 1 Feb 2024 [Ella Berthoud, bibliotherapist and co-author of The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies, puts McEwan on the metaphorical couch to discuss the novel and the books that have shaped and inspired him throughout his life, before delivering his bibliotherapeutic analysis and prescription.]
Ian McEwan, our foremost storyteller, has written an ambitious, mesmerising new novel, Lessons. The novel is a chronicle of our times - a powerful meditation on history and humanity told through the prism of one man’s lifetime.
When the world is still counting the cost of the Second World War and the Iron Curtain has closed, eleven-year-old Roland Baines's life is turned upside down. 2,000 miles from his mother's protective love, stranded at an unusual boarding school, his vulnerability attracts piano teacher Miss Miriam Cornell, leaving scars as well as a memory of love that will never fade.
Now, when his wife vanishes, leaving him alone with his tiny son, Roland is forced to confront the reality of his restless existence. As the radiation from Chernobyl spreads across Europe, he begins a search for answers that looks deep into his family history and will last for the rest of his life.
From the Suez Crisis to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the fall of the Berlin Wall to the current pandemic and climate change, Roland sometimes rides with the tide of history, but more often struggles against it. Haunted by lost opportunities, he seeks solace through every possible means - music, literature, friends, sex, politics and, finally, love cut tragically short, then love ultimately redeemed. His journey raises important questions for us all. Can we take full charge of the course of our lives without damage to others? How do global events beyond our control shape our lives and our memories? And what can we really learn from the traumas of the past?
“Lessons should have made the Booker longlist (and shortlist) but no matter. It marks a significant new phase in McEwan’s already astonishingly productive career – and may well be remembered as one of the finest humanist novels of its age.” - New Statesman
“Lessons, [McEwan’s] 18th novel, is a tour de force of breadth.” - Sunday Times
“A wonderful author has delivered another mesmerising, memorable novel.” - The Independent
“McEwan’s prose always goes down like a cool drink, and its content is often trenchant…I’m delighted to have added this thoughtful, touching and historically grounded novel to my bookshelf.” - Lionel Shriver, Financial Times
“The Booker-winning author has woven multiple versions of himself into Lessons, his 500-page masterpiece” - Andrew Billen, The Times
“A moving and masterful work that captures the essence of McEwan….The book’s psychological astuteness and elegant prose, is a thrill to behold.” - Irish Independent
‘Compassionate and gentle, and so bereft of cynicism it feels almost radical….’ - Beejay Silcox, The Guardian
“McEwan's deft, descriptive prose charts the complexity of growing up and finding one's place in an ever-shifting world.” - Culture Whisper
“[A] big, detailed, sweep of history: starting in the aftermath of World War Two and ending in lockdown. And there’s lots going on here other than history too – family drama, tales from boarding school, and a vanishing wife.” - You Magazine, Mail on Sunday
Ian McEwan’s works have earned him worldwide critical acclaim. He won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1976 for his first collection of short stories First Love, Last Rites; the Whitbread Novel Award (1987) and the Prix Fémina Etranger (1993) for The Child in Time; and Germany's Shakespeare Prize in 1999. He has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction numerous times, winning the award for Amsterdam in 1998. His novel Atonement received the WH Smith Literary Award (2002), National Book Critics' Circle Fiction Award (2003), Los Angeles Times Prize for Fiction (2003), and the Santiago Prize for the European Novel (2004). Atonement was also made into an Oscar-winning film.
In 2006, Ian McEwan won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel Saturday and his novel On Chesil Beach was named Galaxy Book of the Year at the 2008 British Book Awards where McEwan was also named Reader's Digest Author of the Year. Solar won The Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction in 2010 and Sweet Tooth won the Paddy Power Political Fiction Book of the Year award in 2012. Ian McEwan was awarded a CBE in 2000. In 2014 he was awarded the Bodleian Medal.