Friday, January 11, 2008


My company, probably for tax reasons rather than anything altruistic, shuts down over Christmas week, so I enjoyed an enforced but welcome break. I took the opportunity to read, and got lucky with two books – Ian McEwan’s Atonement, which came out in 2001 and won all sorts of awards, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which was similarly lauded in 2006.

Two very good and very different books – John Updike said that Atonement could not have been written by an American, and the reverse could be said of The Road – it felt absolutely American in style, tone, and narrative.

The Road, a post-apocalyptic story that defines ‘bleak’, may not be the kind of book to read at Christmas by the fire, but it has stayed with me. A lot's been said about McCarthy’s style, which is perfectly suited to the terminal, desolate world he creates. For no reason I can think of it reminded me of Steinbeck.

Atonement has all the trappings, at least initially, of a classic English novel: the old mansion house, an off-kilter family of wealth and connection, the extended cast of servants, cousins, village folk. McEwan keeps the romantic story moving, but the novel slowly departs from the E.M, Forster-ish origin, as stories become embedded in stories. The way he decomposes the whole novel-narrative felt a bit like the way Fowles worked in The French Lieutenant's Woman, but his redemptive intentions are very different.

Both great reads. Happy New Year.

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