Bright and colorful, this cover sports a young man playing the piano. And that’s how Ian McEwan begins his new novel. Roland is not only playing a piano, he’s not alone here. He is eleven. His piano teacher is in her early twenties. She’s acting very suggestively. He’s attending boarding school in England. His parents are 2,000 miles away in North Africa.
Four years later when Roland is fourteen this same teacher beckons him to her home. With his heart pounding, he arrives on her doorstep. How can he not? He is absolutely entranced with this beautiful teacher, Miriam. She’s definitely obsessed with him. And their sexual blizzard begins. And on it goes for years. McEwan likes nothing more than to make us feel uncomfortable. He does just that.
Rolands adult life is very unsettled due to the rigorous nature of his affair with this much older woman, an adult. No one nowadays could get away with actions like this. Even then this was considered child abuse and it was not legal. But no one knew…..We do know that Roland might have gone on to become a very successful concert pianist if not for “the piano teacher.”
The relationship ends badly. Roland goes on to marry a half German woman and have a son. His wife suddenly disappears when their son is only seven months old. She’s left a note. Basically she is off to find herself. She’s really off to write the great novel.
During the course of the novel McEwan manages to take us through the fall of the Berlin Wall, Chernobyl, the Cuban missile crisis, various political figures, and right up to and including COVID-19. He gives us great insight as to how historical events can shape our future, mold us into the people we will become.
McEwan addresses so many issues. Aging parents, dying parents, the loss of siblings, a cardiac scare, and misbehaving knees. So many of us can relate to these things. So much of LESSONS is considered to be semi-autobiographical, anti-memoir. Many of the things that happened to Roland were shaped by actual events in McEwan’s own life. He plundered his own life…
Ian McEwan has written eighteen novels. He’s won countless awards including The Booker. He is the master of using shock value. Rape, incest, child abuse, murder. Almost nothing is safe. My favorite of his novels is THE CHILDREN ACT from 2014. It is nothing short of a masterpiece. Now, this one, LESSONS, is another favorite.
Did you know that Queen Elizabeth 11 appointed McEwan Commander of the British Empire? I just had to mention this with Her Magistry’s recent passing.
McEwan says writing this novel was one of the most pleasant experiences of his life. That speaks volumes for me.
I read a digital review copy of LESSONS through Netgalley and the publisher, Knopf in exchange for an honest review.This is literary fiction at its best. This is the perfect book for book clubs and great for discussion!