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Tag Archives: Ian McEwan

“Speaking’s just a form of thinking and he must be as stupid as he appears.”

– Ian McEwan, Nutshell

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“This too solid stench feeds the timid mice behind the skirting and swells them to rats.”

– Ian McEwan, Nutshell

“I’ve heard it argued that long ago pain begat consciousness. To avoid serious damage a simple creature needs to evolve the whips and goads of a subjective loop, of a felt experience. Not just a red warning light in the head – who’s there to see it? – but a sing, an ache, a throb that hurts. Adversity forced awareness on us, and it works, it bities us when we go too near the fire, when we love too hard. Those felt sensations are the beginning of the invention of the self. And if that works, why not feeling disgust for shit, fearing the cliffedge and strangers, remembering insults and favours, liking sex and food? God said, Let there be pain. And there was poetry. Eventually.”

– Ian McEwan, Nutshell

“You can be afflicted by some mental torment, and if you haven’t got the means or entitlement or the language to shape it, to describe it to yourself, all you can do is suffer – and often not be fully aware that you are suffering. Children in particular can suffer in this way. This is why language is such a precious tool.”

– Ian McEwan

“We run narratives about other people in our real lives, we make characters out of them, necessarily, because it helps us to guess what they might do next. Intention is very much bound up with the notion of character, the sort of person who would do this or that. It’s all part of the way in which we instinctively judge other people’s behavior and see ourselves reflected back in their own view of us. The nineteenth century formalized this for us, and the creation of character and the mapping out of other minds and the innovation to the reader to step into our condition.”

– Ian McEwan

“Where there is no God, it’s difficult to give much intellectual credence to evil as an organizing principle in human affairs, as a vague comprehended supernatural force. It’s a useful way of talking about a side of human nature, and it’s metaphorically rich and, for that reason, hard to live without. Harder to live without evil, it would seem, than without God.”

– Ian McEwan, The Art of Fiction No. 173

“Novels do resemble buildings. A first chapter, a first line is like an entrance hall, a doorway. The reader has to be drawn in – what first meets the eye is important. You’re asking the reader to step inside a mental space which has a shape. That’s very much like someone stepping inside a modern building, going to look at it and deciding whether they like it or not.”

– Ian McEwan

“Slowly I’ve come to the view that what underlies morality is the imagination itself… Our imagination permits us to understand what it is like to be someone else. I don’t think you could have even the beginnings of a morality unless you had the imaginative capacity to understand what it would be like to be the person whom you’re considering beating round the head with a stick. An act of cruelty is ultimately a failure of the imagination. Fiction is a deeply moral form in that it is the perfect medium for entering the mind of another. It is at the level of empathy that moral questions begin in fiction.”

– Ian McEwan

“When you are young you can easily afford pessimism. I think as you get older you find yourself searching for meaning. When you are young, you’ve got infinite time. We were happy to see that revolution on the street; as you get older you being to doubt what will come of it, and also you might own a bit of the street by then, and you don’t want it broken. Children force upon you a search for value. You have a stake in the world, you want it to continue, and you look hard for what will help it continue; and that is bound to make you fantasize, about things like trust and good honest communication between people.”

– Ian McEwan

“A microscopic egg had failed to divide in time due to a failure somewhere along a chain of chemical events, a tiny disturbance in a cascade of protein reactions. A molecular event ballooned like an exploding universe, out onto the wider scale human misery. No cruelty, nothing avenged, no ghost moving in mysterious ways. Merely a gene transcribed in error, an enzyme recipe skewed, a chemical bond severed. A process of natural wastage as indifferent as it was pointless. Which only brought into relief healthy, perfectly formed life, equally contingent, equally without purpose. Blind luck, to arrive in the world with your properly formed parts in the right place, to be born to parents who were loving, not cruel, or to escape, by geographical or social accident, war or poverty. And therefore to find it so much easier to be virtuous.”

– Ian McEwan, The Children Act

“He hated confrontations and was innately lazy, so by degrees her jealous eruptions trained him to her will.”

– Ian McEwan, Sweet Tooth

“I wasn’t impressed by those writer who infiltrated their own pages as part of the cast, determined to remind the poor reader that all the characters and even they themselves were pure inventions and that there was a difference between fiction and life. Or, to the contrary, to insist that life was a fiction anyway. Only writers, I thought, were ever in danger of confusing the two. I was a born empiricist. I believed that writers were paid to pretend, and where appropriate should make use of the real world, the one we all shared, to give plausibility to whatever they had made up.”

– Ian McEwan, Sweet Tooth

“How can one understand the inner life of a character, real or fictional, without knowing the state of her finances?”

– Ian McEwan, Sweet Tooth

“I have now reached the stage where as soon as anyone says life moves around a single, organizing principle I stop listening to them. I don’t feel that life organizes itself around any single principle. It’s a religious impulse to only grasp at one thing, one explanation.

Ian McEwan, The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers

“She approved of his mission and loyally read climate-change stories in the press. But she told him once that to take the mater seriously would be to think about it all the time. Everything else shrank before it. And so, like everyone else she knew, she could not take it seriously, not entirely. Daily life would not permit it.”

– Ian McEwan, Solar

“This matter has to move beyond virtue. Virtue is too passive, too narrow. Virtue can motivate individuals, but for groups, societies, a whole civilization, it’s a weak force. Nations are never virtuous, though they might sometimes think they are. For humanity en masse, greed trumps virtue. So we have to welcome into our solutiosn the ordinary compulsions of self-interest, and also celebrate novelty, the thrill of invention, the pleasures of ingenuity and cooperation, the satisfaction of profit.”

– Ian McEwan, Solar

“He knows it for a quotidian fact, the mind is what the brain, mere matter performs. If that’s worthy of awe, it also deserves curiosity; the actual, not the magical, should be the challenge. The supernatural was the recourse of an insufficient imagination, a dereliction of duty, a childish evasion of the difficulties and wonders of the real.”

– Ian McEwan, Saturday

“He steps under the shower, a fanciful cascade pumped down from the third floor. When this civilization falls, when the Romans, whoever they are in this time around, have finally left and the new dark ages begin, this will be one of the first luxuries to go. The old folk crouching by their peat fires will tell their disbelieving grandchildren of standing naked mid-winter, of lozenges of scented soaps and of viscous amber and vermillion liquids they rubbed into their hair to make it glossy and more voluminous than it really was, and of thick white towels as big as togas, waiting on warming racks.”

– Ian McEwan, Saturday