Arthur Miller International Literary Festival, Autumn 2014: Ian McEwan

Tonight I visited the University of East Anglia (UEA) to attend Ian McEwan’s lecture as part of the university’s autumn literary festival. I was first introduced to McEwan as part of my AS studies last year: I compared McEwan’s Atonement to Alan Bennett’s The History Boys. My essay explored the problematic nature of the truth in both texts, and my enjoyment of Atonement led me to read other works by McEwan.

Since the description of the event on the UEA’s ticket booking website was very brief, I wasn’t entirely certain as to what to expect. I assumed that the lecture would had a significant focus of McEwan’s latest novel The Children Act which was published earlier this year, although I did secretly hope that he would talk about some of his older works as well.

The lecture merely dealt with his latest book. Whilst this was not a total surprise, I would have personally liked to have heard him speak about some of his other novels too. The event was not exactly a discussion: Ian McEwan responded to some “stimulus” style questions before moving on to the next question/prompt. The lecture’s focus on McEwan’s latest work explored the story that prompted the novel. McEwan revealed how he had met a judge who told him about a recent case where the judge had to decide whether the son of some Jehovah’s Witnesses should receive a life-saving blood transfusion or not.

McEwan explained the novel in terms of its plot. I found the idea about the notable gap between what is “lawful” and what is “just” particularly interesting, since it was revealed that outcomes of the law are not always what we might deem as “fair”. The addition of the female judge, Fiona, in the novel also opened up the book to a whole series of possibilities, revealing a subtle maternal attitude towards the child, as she claimed that the nature of her job meant that she felt as though she was ‘married to the law’. Fiona’s flawed relationship with her husband also adds another dimension to the plot, illustrating the messy nature of human relationships through the collapse of their interpersonal relationship. In light of this, Fiona appears to find comfort and rationality in the process of making judgements regarding the chaotic lives of other people.

I did find the lecture interesting as I wanted to find out more information about the influences behind the novel, but perhaps I would have preferred to have learnt about McEwan’s writing process or the reasoning behind particular elements of the text rather than just the general factual overview.

Afterwards I met Ian McEwan and we had a quick conversation – we both agreed that the film adaptation of Atonement was more faithful to the text than the adaptation of Enduring Love. 

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