Over the past two decades, few writers have charmed as many critics and readers as the British novelist Ian McEwan, He is probably best known for his 2001 novel Atonement, which sold over 4 million copies and was turned into a popular movie, but McE wan has been selling books and winning awards since the mid-1970s. Of the six novels McEwan has published in the past twenty years, three have been vehicles of a movement that has grown in strength and numbers over the same period: the so-called New Atheism, which fortifies traditional skepticism with the findings of the natural sciences, especially astrophysics and biology. What is perhaps newest about the New Atheism is its missionary zeal - it is not just an esoteric wisdom for the elite but good news for the masses, whom it evangelizes with billboards, documentary films, summer camps for kids, and "de -baptisms" for adults.
Article Secular Sabbath Unbelief in Ian McEwan’s Fiction David Impastato O ver the past two decades, few writ- calls the “dead hand of modernity.” He laments that literary modernism sometimes smothers narrative by focusing entirely ers have charmed as many critics on character instead, leaving readers with little or no mo- and readers as the British novelist mentum to pull them along. His own novels are page-turners. Irony, while mostly absent from his tone and characterizations, Ian McEwan. He is probably best known for is abundant in his plots. They teem with suspense, surprise, his 2001 novel Atonement, which sold over 4 and twists of fate. To create narrative tension, McEwan often deploys a violent incident or a threat of violence. His earliest million copies and was turned into a popular writing earned him the nickname “Ian Macabre.” movie, but McEwan has been selling books In other ways, though, McEwan is very much within the main current of modern literary fiction. His books are as full and winning awards since the mid-1970s. of psychological observation as they are of incident. He often Before Atonement, there was The Comfort cites as a defining influence Virginia Woolf and her free, indi- of Strangers, Black Dogs, Enduring Love, and rect style—a dazzling articulation of consciousness that traces the subtlest motions of her characters’ minds. McEwan pays Amsterdam; and since Atonement, he has pub- tribute to Woolf both in and by his own writing. Like Woolf’s lished two more successful books: Saturday Mrs. Dalloway, McEwan’s 2005 novel Saturday describes a single day in the life of a Londoner. But Saturday’s main debt and the novella Chesil Beach. is not to other novels, but to science and the culture of sci- McEwan has won both the National Book Award and the coveted Booker Prize. He’s been informally dubbed Britain’s National Author and, by royal decree, Commander of the British Empire. Several things account for the McEwan phenomenon. The fine, elegant thread of his language is easy and pleasurable to follow. His authorial voice is genial, direct, and refresh- ingly free of modernist irony. Novelists such as John Updike and Philip Roth, both of whom McEwan has written about admiringly, often tinge their characterizations with irony to avoid sentimentality. But when McEwan presents a character, he is never winking at the reader. He recently acknowledged that a “certain ironical tone” he developed for his forthcom- Commonweal . October 23, 2009 ing novel was hard for him to come by. McEwan’s narrative directness is at least superficially similar to that of romance and adventure fiction, where characters usually appear in plain aspect. The plots of McEwan’s literary fiction also have much in
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