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Achieving ‘At-one-ment’

Storytelling and the Concept of the "Self</I> in Ian McEwan’s "The Child in Time, Black Dogs, Enduring Love</I>, and "Atonement</I>


Claudia Schemberg

Ian McEwan’s novels are characterised by innovative forms of plot-oriented storytelling that combine a pronounced interest in contemporary (British) culture and (recent) history with a concern for social and ethical questions. Novels like The Child in Time, Black Dogs, Enduring Love, and Atonement draw the reader’s attention to the difficulty, complexity, and relativity of value commitments in a world where prescriptive master narratives and old essentialisms have been debunked. This book undertakes to incorporate the discussion of storytelling and the concept of the self into the discourse of values revived by ethical critics at the turn of the millennium. Bringing together findings from philosophy, psychology, literary and cultural studies, the study introduces a concept of the self that acknowledges our ineradicable need for structures of meaning and orientation while taking into account the plurality and heterogeneity of postmodern ways of life.


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0. Introduction For over a decade Ian Russell McEwan found himself trapped in the role of the shocking sensationalist, caricatured by the British press as Ian Macabre, Ian Makesyouqueasy, and the Clapham Shocker. I The collections of short stories McEwan wrote at the beginning of his career, First Love, Last Rites (1975) and In Between the Sheets, and Other Stories (1978), as well as his first two novels The Cement Garden (1978) and The Comfort of Strangers (1981), were reviewed with an eye an the scatological, psychopathological, or pornographic. Isolating the "dirty" bits of his work, critics and scholars of the late 1970s and early 1980s either tended to condemn McEwan as obscene or praise him as liberated.2 The Child in Time (1987) was the first of McEwan's novels not to achieve a succAss de scandale. It marked the beginning of the author's public transformation from an enfant terrible of the 1970s to one of the most revered "storytellers" of contemporary British culture. McEwan's examination of great philosophical concepts such as truth and reality, his prismatic exploration of the uncertainties and complexities of interpersonal relationships, and his critical but sympathetic study of human nature earned him a panoply of awards, including the 1998 Booker Prize for his novel Amsterdam (1998). The Child in Time, Black Dogs (1992), Enduring Love (1997), and Atonement (2001) retain elements of the existential void, the "emotional and spiritual waste land of frustration [.. non-communication, isolation, and la nausse"3 depicted in McEwan's early fiction. However, despite...

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