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This Companion showcases the best scholarship on Ian McEwan's work, and offers a comprehensive demonstration of his importance in the canon of international contemporary fiction. The whole career is covered, and the connections as well as the developments across the oeuvre are considered. The essays offer both an assessment of McEwan's technical accomplishments and a sense of the contextual factors that have provided him with inspiration. This volume has been structured to highlight the points of intersection between literary questions and evaluations, and the treatment of contemporary socio-cultural issues and topics. For the more complex novels - such as Atonement - this book offers complementary perspectives. In this respect, The Cambridge Companion to Ian McEwan serves as a prism of interpretation, revealing the various interpretive emphases each of McEwan's more complex works invite, and to show how his various recurring preoccupations run through his career.
Ian Russell McEwan (1948– ) holds a pre-eminent place in late twentieth-century and contemporary British fiction. His standing as one of the most significant British writers since the 1970s is well established, and the interest in his work extends beyond Britain, especially to the United States and Europe, where he is widely read (and studied): his works have received both popular and critical acclaim, and he is, apart from Salman Rushdie (1947– ), perhaps the most truly international author among his peers, the novelists of his generation, born in the 1940s: Martin Amis (1949– ), Julian Barnes (1946– ), Graham Swift (1949– ). The larger underlying claim, which this Companion explores in its different facets, is that McEwan is at the forefront of a group of novelists who reinvigorated the ethical function of the novel, in ways that embody a deep response to the historical pressures of the time. Indeed, from the perspective of literary history, McEwan occupies a central role in a new wave of British novelists whose mature writing began to emerge in the Thatcher era, all of whom found different ways to address the moral problems that presented themselves in Britain from the late 1970s through to the 1990s, a period characterized broadly by the growth of self-interest, the expansion of corporate power and the collapse of the Welfare State.
One aspect of McEwan’s celebrated status as a stylist is his distinctive contribution to the novella, a genre that arguably reached its pinnacle in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Novellas like Amsterdam (1998), with its focused critique of the left-leaning elite who did well in the Thatcher era, and On Chesil Beach (2007), with its (apparently) precise anatomy of sexual mores, reveal how McEwan uses the novella as an incisive instrument of cultural analysis. Embracing, as well, The Cement Garden (1978) and The Comfort of Strangers (1981), this chapter considers what it means to be an accomplished contemporary novella writer by making the case that, throughout his career, McEwan has continued to work with great skill in an overlooked literary form, once thought to be the most sophisticated mode of shorter fiction.
This book examines the persistence of the rural tradition in the English novel into the twentieth century. In the shadow of metropolitan literary culture, rural writing can seem to strive for a fantasy version of England with no compelling social or historical relevance. Dominic Head argues that the apparent disconnection is, in itself, a response to modernity rather than a refusal to engage with it, and that the important writers in this tradition have had a significant bearing on the trajectory of English cultural life through the twentieth century. At the heart of the discussion is the English rural regional novel of the 1920s and 1930s, which reveals significant points of overlap with mainstream literary culture and the legacies of modernism. Rural writers refashioned the conventions of the tradition and the effects of literary nostalgia, to produce the swansong of a fading genre with resonances that are still relevant today.