Review of the book “Lessons” by Ian McEwan.
By Paqui Bernal.

“Lessons”, by the great English novelist Ian McEwan, begins with a “mild” sexual abuse of a pre-adolescent -Roland-. It is committed by his piano teacher, a young woman who is also a terribly severe educator. Surely she has already chosen a scapegoat, because Roland appears to us as a shy, reserved, sensitive and self-conscious child.

Later we will know that we are in the sixties. Roland’s father, a military man by profession, has interned him in England to get rid of him and has returned to Libya with his mother – a rather faint-hearted woman.

We follow Roland in different stages of his life as a dreamer through imperceptible “flashbacks,” because McEwan weaves them (with enormous mastery) into the character and biography of the protagonist.

As an adult, Roland is an unsuccessful poet. His wife leaves him in the same days that a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded in 1986. The protagonist tries to seal the windows to protect himself and his baby -Lawrence-, although it is revealed to us that it was not a child desired by him. Furthermore, Roland knows that the radiation has already reached England by then and that it is impossible to isolate himself. This situation adds fear, sadness and an apocalyptic feeling to what the protagonist already feels due to the abandonment of his wife.

Added to all this is the stress he suffers from being interrogated by a police officer, who searches his house without respecting his privacy and whose prejudices or professional deformation make him see signs that point to a possible murder of his wife by Roland. The protagonist’s situation is very hard and leads him to remember and reflect.

I am very struck by the fact that Ian McEwan does not mind telling events instead of showing them and that he explains the causes, as he does with details of the Second World War or other historical passages from the second half of the 20th century. It occurs to me that this information to the reader does not detract from the work, because “Lessons” has a sufficiently dense plot and sufficiently complex characters: there are many other adventures to show and many other character traits to discover.

The author also does not mind making digressions in which he tells us parts of the lives of Roland’s own parents or his in-laws, some of them political activists in post-Nazi Germany.

“Lessons” seemed to me to be a work that was largely different from the ones I had read by the author previously. In fact, you can find a profile of McEwan on Professor Jonk’s blog, which I created based on two of his novels: “Chesil Beach” and “Walnutshell.”

Be that as it may, Ian McEwan is an undeniable artist of the pen and this latest novel is another essential work for many reasons. Among them, because of the author’s know-how in the characters he constructs and in the relationships he describes, because of the poetic nature of his language – which does not mean that on other occasions he uses very fine irony – and, above all, because of how It captivates us from the beginning to the end of his novel.


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