The Innocent is my third book by Ian McEwan. You have to go back to Harry Potter a couple of years ago, or further to my Discworld-devouring 20s to find me having read more than a couple of books by the same author. I mention that only to say that to my surprise and despite my own expectations (it’s not genre!) I seem to be becoming a McEwan fan.
The Innocent is the story of Leonard – a naive 25-year-old English phone technician sent to Berlin in 1956 to work on a secret project. Predictably perhaps the books is all about him losing his innocence in various ways. He learns about espionage, he learns to drink, he learns about sex and then love, from a spirited, confident, slightly older Berlin native called Maria.
Given that I was looking for “something lighter” after 1974 those of you who know the story of The Innocent will perhaps smile. I don’t want to spoil but the pivotal event that occurs about halfway through is as dark and upsetting as anything in 1974. Having said that overall the book is much more optimistic.
It’s interesting that I read this enjoying the first half of the book, which establishes the characters, the setting, the relationships and so on. I was enjoying McEwan’s fine insight into relationships and they way they express themselves, especially through sex. I am slightly amused to find on finishing the book that many see this as slightly drawn-out set-up for the central incident and feel that the book is really about the fallout from that. I can see that, and I did enjoy that. I still enjoyed the early part of the book best though.
I guess I was at a disadavantage because before getting to the central event I flicked to the end to check the page number of the last page (to see how far through I was) and spoiled myself by catching sight of two words. Just two words! So what was I expect for some a “twist” was for me a gradual sad build-up to the inevitable. Fortunately the two words were not the final ones and unlike Atonement McEwan was able to rescue it for me on the final page.
9/10 – Innocence lost, hope regained.