Tuesday, September 13, 2022


Lessons by Ian McEwan
9/13/22; 448 pages
Knopf Doubleday

Lessons by Ian McEwan is a highly recommended literary fiction following one man's life through many historical and personal events.

In 1986 Roland Baines, 37, has his wife Alissa leave him and their 7 month-old son Lawrence right before the Chernobyl sent a cloud of radiation. As Roland deals with his current circumstances, he ponders past events in his life. His father was an army captain in Tripoli which meant at age 11 he had to travel 2000 miles away to a boarding school in England. At the school a piano teacher takes advantage of him and this left scars that endured into adulthood.  He rejects formal education, spends time traveling as he pursues introspective distractions through music, literature, friends, sex, politics, love, and, unexpectedly, fatherhood. Roland's life experiences are followed across generations of his dysfunctional family and many historical events.

The writing is lyrical, dense, and exquisite, with breath-taking descriptions and insight, as one would expect and anticipate from McEwan. On the other hand, giving a brief introduction to what Lessons is about is challenging. It is a compelling novel and I was engaged with the narrative, however, it also felt like just too much and became overwhelming at times.

There is a lot going on in this character driven novel. Roland himself isn't a particularly interesting character all on his own. The interest is found in the various experiences he lived through simple as an extension of his life experiences and these are all events I remembered. There are also numerous family secrets exposed and lessons shared from Roland's life. I did read Lessons over a period of time, which made it slow going and it felt like it could have been shortened or focused in tighter on a specific period of time.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday via NetGalley.

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