Sunday, April 29, 2007

McEwan Responds to Reviewer

I smiled a little wryly when I read Natasha Walter's review of my novel, On Chesil Beach (Guardian Review, March 31). In a generally favourable notice she reported that my views about the peace movement stuck in her throat. She managed to extract these views from the brief musings of one of my characters, a CND member who, in 1961, thought that the Soviet Union, for all its many failings, was still a force for good in the world. Historically, such a position was perfectly possible; I knew of people who thought this even in the 1980s. Ms Walter regarded it as a smear against peace activists as "hopeless naifs". But she was prepared to forgive me because, as a mature reader, she knew not to let an author's political opinions, however vile or rightwing, get in the way of her judgment.

I accept that being forgiven by critics is an occupational hazard, but just for the record and Ms Walter's throat, perhaps I could set this matter straight. When she was still at her primary school I was campaigning, writing and speaking against nuclear weapons. I was a member of European Nuclear Disarmament and travelled to the Soviet Union with Mary Kaldor and Jonathan Steele of the Guardian to make contact and common cause with the unofficial and harassed peace movement there. With the composer Michael Berkeley I wrote an oratorio against the nuclear arms race. I am proud to have appeared in public with EP Thompson. My views have not changed substantially; the renovation or replacement of Trident is a waste and a folly; I am sceptical about the proposal to build a new generation of nuclear power stations in the cause of limiting CO2 emissions when we have an adequate, safe, untapped nuclear facility 93m miles away.

As for Saturday - a character in a novel who expresses hostility towards novels in general should not be seen as an entirely trustworthy mouthpiece of his novelist creator. For example, the pro-Iraq war views Henry Perowne expresses in an argument with his daughter are not mine and nor, for that matter, are her anti-war opinions. On the other hand, I would agree with Perowne that some - not all - peace protesters are naive. Who can forget those daft and earnest English folk parading through central London last summer with placards that read, "We are all Hizbullah now"?

I sometimes wonder whether these common critical confusions arise unconsciously from a prevailing atmosphere of empowering consumerism - the exaltation of the subjective, the "not in my name" syndrome. It certainly seems odd to me that such simple precepts need pointing up: your not "liking" the characters is not the same as your not liking the book; you don't have to think the central character is nice; the views of the characters don't have to be yours, and are not necessarily those of the author; a novel is not always all about you

Ian McEwan
London

(NOTE: Originally published under the heading '(Novels are not all about you, Natasha' in The Guardian, 7 April 2007: 39.)

1 Comments:

Blogger Mary Soderstrom said...

This is very interesting, and I'm pleased to see that McEwan was so involved in peace action in the past.

But I think he's avoiding talking about the Iraqi war here.

In an interview with Laura Miller published Salon in April 2005, one finds this exchange:

Miller: Do you still feel as ambivalent about the war?

McEwan: Well, it sounds pathetic, but I rather do.

What I'd like t know is: has he changed his mind since then?

I'll be leading a discussion of Saturday at a Montreal library on Wednesday, June 13, 2007. and it would be marvelous to have an update on McEwan's thoughts to share.

Thank you

Mary Soderstrom
http://marysoderstrom.blogspot.com

June 12, 2007 at 3:59 PM  

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