Ian McEwan and Rosamund Smith

Now, why those two in the title ? If you’re an avid reader or moviegoer, you’re familiar with Ian McEwan. Unlikely, you’re familiar with R. Smith (or am I wrong?) unless you’re QUITE the reader.

I’d never read anything by Ian McEwan before last fall although I’d had “Atonement” (2001) on my shelf for at least a couple of years. But I was familiar with his name from the bestseller lists in the 1980s. One of the titles I remembered was “The Cement Garden” (1978). Last fall, I came across a copy while staying at my parents’, and since it’s very short, and I was on vacation and in the mood, I started reading. The book tells the story of a rather dysfunctional family with four kids that turns more dysfunctional after both parents die rather suddenly. Telling the story is Jack, one of the four kids. No doubt, many readers will be shocked at some of the incestuous elements of the story. It didn’t bother me. All in all, it was an enjoyable read. If you’re familiar with Roddy Doyle’s “Patty Clarke Ha Ha Ha”, that’s what came to mind while I was reading. A few weeks later though, I happened to read a review about the book, and to my great frustration I began to realize that I had missed the whole larger Oedipal concept/reinvention going on. It’s clear I will have to read this book again with this in mind.

I don’t like books overloaded with symbolism, hidden meanings, and overly pretentious ballast. But I enjoy reading a book that when I reach the end makes me feel like I missed something subtle that was there, out in the open, for me to see if I had paid attention. It’s far superior to the kind of Hollywood ending confronting at the end with bewilderment at the possibility that everything might just have been a dream. It’s more subtle. And subtlety is art.

“Black Dogs” (1992) is very thin again – my kind of book these days. It starts out slow and seems to have no momentum all through the first half. A guy is talking at great, borings length about his in-laws, especially his mother-in-law. It pushed me to the brink of wanting to quit. I just didn’t understand what was the point. I usually don’t hesitate to quit after 25 pages if the book doesn’t draw me in. I’d say that half the books I start get tossed that way. So I was all the more perplexed that I kept reading. There is little point in trying to sum up what “Black Dogs” is about. It’s the story of the narrator’s in-laws revolving an encounter with a couple of ferocious black dogs years and years ago, right after World War 2, somewhere in the heart of Provence. You find out very early on about the black dogs, and then that subject is lost and revisited till finally at the end, on the very last pages, all subtlety goes over board and revelation comes crashing down on you, and you’re gladder than ever that you kept going. Don’t get me wrong. Even ths end does not qualify as “action-packed”. Again, the art was all subtlety. You’re never quite sure if you’re understanding it but you are sure that there is A something to understand . – Needless to say that I will read more McEwan.

A few days ago, I picked up a book by Rosamund Smith. First, what got me curious was the cover design. Next, the text inside the dust jacket. Then, reading that Rosamund Smith is someone else’s pseudonym. That latter fact was all it took to get me to buy the little book for only a few bucks, and I started reading that night. I had finished 4-5 intriguing pages when I got up impatiently and googled Rosamund Smith. Turns out it’s… well, check for yourself. I myself was just a little shocked because I’d never read a thing by said lady, not a single sentence, and when I started wondering why, I didn’t have an answer. For some unfortunate reason, I had always assumed it probably wasn’t my cup of tea. But why ?

I don’t mean to over-dramatize the problem of choosing the right book. For me personally, it’s a bit of a quest. I can be cold blooded when it comes to judging books. My patience is quite limited. The of rule of thumb being: if you can’t captre my curiosity or attention page 1, you’re done. I do discard so many after only a few pages, that it’s always a fantastic joy to really, really like something, or at least to be really surprized. We’ll see what I might have to say about R. Smith after I finish. For now, I’ll put JCO on my future list of authors to try.

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One Response to “Ian McEwan and Rosamund Smith”

  1. I enjoyed your comments. I feel that you will enjoy everything written by JCO, particularly her vast collection of short stories. I know I have.

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