Erstwhile en fant terrible Ian McEwan’s fiction flirted with life’s cruel and sinister underbelly. As his latest novel The Innocent is released. Miranda France talks to the author about his more mature concerns.

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[ was hovering anxiously between puberty and adolescence when I first came across Ian McEwan. And, even allowing for a teenage tendency to over-enthuse, he made a profound impression on me. The Comfort of Strangers was my introduction to his seductive and appalling world. On holiday in Venice, protaganists Colin and Mary are lovers spinning out the last days of a deteriorating relationship. Between restless nights and sleep-logged afternoons they wander aimlessly through labyrinthine streets. Then Robert crosses their path. At first he is the archetypal over-friendly Italian. then he‘s a repellent little man and. ultimately, an obsessive sadist. The atmosphere is sultry, sticky, heavy. Colin and Mary sleepwalk into the


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spider‘s web.

Later. in McEwan’s short stories. I discovered a new kind ofviolence. so chillingly clinical in its execution that lcouldn‘t help wondering if it was not personally harmful. That I persevered says a great deal for McEwan‘s ability as a writer.

Even so. my feelings were still ambivalent as. many years latcr.l prepared to interview the man who held me in thrall at such an ‘impressronable‘ time. Ofeourse he wasn‘t what I ‘xpceted. And what a relief. Ian MeEwan is not the honey. angular man of his most unflattering publicity shots. Rather he is small and sleek. a gentle and eloquent man seemingly unruffled by the media attention centred on him.

lfanything. lie is dismissive of

1 Western literature. isn‘t it‘.’

those early short stories: and novels.

‘I don’t feel a great deal of

connection with them now. They

were concerned w ith closed-off

situations. obsessive it)” time. a

claustroplia.)l“t. world They were

devoid of much social conteyt and

theywere alsopiettylinear.‘ (‘ertainly the mood is lighter in

3 MeEvtan's later books. in particular

l I‘lteehi/dtrt limit and in lilé’

i Innocent. his new novel. yet the

I characters still grapple v. ith the most


ferociously gruelling ordeals. '1 hey may be survivors, but only just.

‘ies. I came to hope slim and late. I distrust easy optimism. I think that life is difficult and you win through at a cost. But it‘s a common pattern of

Characters undergo a struggle and J

The List l- l-llune 199079