Ian McEwan is one of Britain’s most celebrated writers.
The author of novels including The Cement Garden (1978), the Booker Prize—winning Amsterdam (1998), and most recently, Atonement (2002), McEwan began writing in 1970. When his first book, First Love, Last Rites (1975), received the Somerset Maugham Award, it was lauded as “brilliantly perverse.” Such a description may be applied to the subject matter in nearly all of McEwan’s books: a young girl’s imagination leads her to accuse a childhood friend of a hideous crime he did not commit; a man finds himself being stalked by a religious follower after attempting to save the victim of a tragic air-balloon accident; a group of children lapse into filth and apathy after concealing the deaths of their parents. McEwan may craft horrific tales, but he also has an uncanny ability to guide his readers through these haunting fictional worlds of moral ambiguity and doubt toward a land of sharpness and clarity.
Born in 1948, McEwan is a self-described “army brat” who spent his childhood living in North Africa and Singapore before returning to England for schooling. He received his M.A. from the University of Sussex in Brighton, where he studied under writer Malcolm Bradbury. In addition to his fiction, McEwan is a frequent contributor of nonfiction to publications including The Guardian, The Independent, and The Financial Times. He lives in London.
Excerpt from Atonement (2001)She eased herself onto an elbow and brought the glass of water to her lips. It was beginning to fade, the presence of her animal tormentor, and now she was able to arrange two pillows against the headboard in order to sit up. This was a slow and awkward maneuver because she was fearful of sudden movement, and thus the creaking of the bedsprings was prolonged, and half obscured the sound of a man’s voice. Propped on her side, she froze, with the corner of a pillow clenched in one hand, and beamed her raw attention into every recess of the house. There was nothing, and then, like a lamp turned on and off in total darkness, there was a little squeal of laughter abruptly smothered. Lola then, in the nursery with Marshall. She continued to settle herself, and lay back at last, and sipped her lukewarm water. This wealthy young entrepreneur might not be such a bad sort, if he was prepared to pass the time of day entertaining children. Soon she would be able to risk turning on the bedside lamp, and within twenty minutes she might be able to rejoin the household and pursue the various lines of her anxiety. Most urgent was a sortie into the kitchen to discover whether it was not too late to convert the roast into cold cuts and salads, and then she must greet her son and appraise his friend and make him welcome. As soon as this was accomplished, she was satisfy herself that the twins were properly taken care of, and perhaps allow them some sort of compensating treat. Then it would be a good time to make the telephone call to Jack who would have forgotten to tell her he was not coming home. She would talk herself past the terse woman on the switchboard, and the pompous young fellow in the outer office, and she would reassure her husband that there was no need to feel guilt. She would track down Cecilia and make sure that she had arranged the flowers as instructed, and that she should jolly well make an effort for the evening by taking on some of the responsibilities of a hostess and that she wore something pretty and didn’t smoke in every room. And then, most important of all, she should set off in search of Briony because the collapse of the play was a terrible blow and the child would need all the comfort a mother could give. Finding her would mean exposure to unadulterated sunlight, and even the diminishing rays of early evening could provoke an attack. The sunglasses could have to be found then, and this, rather than the kitchen, would have to be the priority, because they were somewhere in this room, in a drawer, between a book, in a pockeet, and it would be a bother to come upstairs again for them. She should also put on some flat-soled shoes in case Briony had gone all the way to the river . . .
And so Emily lay back against the pillows for another several minutes, her creature having slunk away, and patiently planned, and revised her plans, and refined an order for them. She would soothe the household, which seemed to her, from the sickly dimness of the bedroom, like a troubled and sparsely populated continent from whose forested vastness competing elements made claims and counter claims upon her restless attention. She had no illusions: old plans, if one could ever remember them, the plans that time had overtaken, tended to have a febrile and overoptimistic grip on events. She could send her tendrils into every room of the house, but she could not send them into the future. She also knew that, ultimately, it was her own peace of mind she strove for; self-interest and kindness were best not separated. Gently, she pushed herself upright and swung her feet to the floor and wriggled them into her slippers. Rather than risking drawing the curtains just yet, she turned on the reading light, and tentatively began the hunt for her dark glasses. She had already decided where to look first.
Selected WorkAtonement (2001) Amsterdam (1998)Enduring Love (1997)The Daydreamer (1994)Black Dogs (1992)The Innocent (1990)The Child in Time (1987)The Comfort of Strangers (1981)In Between the Sheets and Other Stories (1978)The Cement Garden (1978)First Love, Last Rites (1975)