The Innocent, by Ian McEwan

Book 10

The Innocent is an earlier Ian McEwan novel. Set in Berlin, 1955, it is the story of a young British man sent to work on a joint intelligence project with the Americans.

The illustration of post-war Germany was cool. The Cold War paranoia, with the defeated German population stuck in between. The best part of it for me was the British observations of the Americans.

In the beginning, it was very basic: Remember in Golden Eye, when James Bond meets up with the American Marine? Like that. Then, later in the novel, when The Innocent is no longer so innocent, he reflects on the American military men.

They think of everything, he thought, the Americans. They wanted to make things possible, and easy. They wanted to look after you. This pleasant lightweight staircase with the nonslip treads and chain-link bannisters, the Coke machines in the corridors, steak and chocolate milk in the canteen. He had seen grown men drink chocolate milk. The British would have kept the vertical ladder because difficulty was part of a secret operation. Americans thought of “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Tutti Frutti” and playing catch on the rough ground outside, grown men with chocolate-milk mustaches playing ball. They were the innocent. How could you steal secrets from them?”

This is why I like McEwan.

My problem with the book is that I cannot believe what the characters did. OK – SPOILERS HERE:

Bad guy shows up and tries to kill Main Character and Girl. Bad Guy ends up dead. Main character and Girl dismember and hide his body.

Really? You’re a British intelligence officer in post-war Berlin, you kill a guy in self-defense and this is how you handle it? Really?

McEwan is famous for the shocking things that happen to his characters. Well done in Atonement. Even better in Saturday. But it is really his use of observation and language that keeps me going back.

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