Thursday, December 24, 2009

Black Dogs by Ian McEwan

The normally reliable Ian McEwan has disappointed me in this peculiar and oddly constructed fifth novel published in 1992. I found the prose nearly as powerful as his later work, such as Atonement, Saturday, and Amsterdam, for which he won the Booker Prize, but Black Dogs left me unsatisfied at the end.

Jeremy lost his parents when he was a child, and began to have an inordinate amount of interest in the parents of friends, adopting them for his own. When he married, he continued this practice and became close to his in-laws. He takes on the task of writing a memoir of June, his dying mother-in-law. She recounts a pivotal event in her life involving three large, black dogs that threatened her when she was on her honeymoon in France shortly after World War II. Jeremy compares her account with that of his father-in-law, Bernard, and resolves the differences in a philosophical manner. He uses the incident to explain the world view of both, and the memoir becomes a meditation on the conflict between good and evil, rationalism and spirituality, thinking and action.

The novel is short – only 149 pages -- and that may be its principle flaw. McEwan tumbles over the waterfall in the barrel of his version and explanation of the event. I wish there was more meat on these bones to give me a better understanding of how he arrived at his conclusions.

I am glad I read this after his later work, so it has little effect on my opinion of this excellent writer, and I will work my way through his first four novels. 4 stars for the prose.

--Chiron, 12/24/09

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