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Monday 10 July 2023

Spotlight: Lessons by Ian McEwan

Book blogger Is This Mutton reads Lessons by Ian McEwan

Dear friends. I can't tell you how much I love the writing of Ian McEwan. Today I'm thrilled to be part of the blog tour for his latest novel "Lessons." Being on a blog tour means you review the book in a prominent way on your blog and social media channels, with each participating blogger given a different day. Today is my day!

This is McEwan's 17th novel and is one of his best in my view.  McEwan won the Booker Prize in 1998 for Amsterdam. 

The cover of paperback Lessons by Ian McEwan

Publisher's Description

While the world is still counting the cost of the Second World War and the Iron Curtain has descended, young Roland Baines's life is turned upside down. Stranded at boarding school, his vulnerability attracts his piano teacher, Miriam Cornell, leaving scars as well as a memory of love that will never fade.

Twenty-five years later Roland's wife mysteriously vanishes, and he is left alone with their baby son. Her disappearance sparks a journey of discovery that will continue for decades, as Roland confronts the reality of his rootless existence and attempts to embrace the uncertainty - and freedom - of his future.

My Thoughts

14 year old Roland has turned up at the doorstep of his former piano teacher's cottage, after failing to arrive when she invited him a while ago.   It's the height of the Cuban missile crisis, and Roland fears the world is about to end, and he will die a virgin. Miss Cornell makes sure the latter is not the case. Afterwards she cooks a Sunday roast, and becomes possessive of the young boy, wanting him to live with her and stay in all day waiting for her.

I found Roland indecisive and cowardly for much of the book, but my impression changed dramatically when he brought about two difficult confrontations that most people would shy away from, to their eternal regret. 

McEwan doesn't go so far as to blame Miss Cornell for Roland's inability to settle down.  Roland is, after all, a Boomer, and this stoic breed is reluctant to cry PTSD or seek therapy.  He went to a boarding school and was loved in a stiff and undemonstrative way. 

Instead Roland drifts through life and into marriage and parenthood, several jobs and several post war inflection points:  the reunification of Europe is one, where he finds himself at the fall of the Berlin Wall, but bemused, as if he doesn't feel the significance.

In addition to Roland's story, we learn about the lives of those close to him:  his mother and her lifelong silence which has hidden a story of wartime shame, and his first wife Alissa, who abandons Roland and their son to fulfil her dreams of becoming a writer. The women are at the heart of the book.  McEwan has always had an innate understanding of women and their emotions, one of the reasons that makes him such a compelling writer.

McEwan isn't making any moral arguments or political points in Lessons. It's quite a gentle, compassionate read, described as old fashioned by some of the literary critics. But there's a lot to admire and like. I am, as always, humbled by McEwan's intellect and empathy. 

About Ian McEwan

Sir Ian McEwan is the critically acclaimed author of seventeen novels and two short story collections. His first published work, a collection of short stories, First Love, Last Rites, won the Somerset Maugham Award. 

His novels include The Child in Time, which won the 1987 Whitbread Novel of the Year Award; The Cement Garden; Enduring Love; Amsterdam, which won the 1998 Booker Prize; Atonement
Saturday; On Chesil Beach; Solar; Sweet Tooth; The Children Act; Nutshell; and Machines Like Me, which was a number-one bestseller. 

Atonement, Enduring Love, The Children Act and On Chesil Beach have all been adapted for the big screen.

Buy the Book



My thanks to publishers Vintage and Jonathan Cape and Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for the copy of Lessons and the opportunity to take part in the Lessons blog tour.  

Sharing this post with #AnythingGoes at My Random Musings, Rena at Fine WhateverTalent Sharing Tuesdays at Scribbling Boomer, Final Friday at Marsha in the Middle, Senior Salon Pitstop at Esme Salon 


June book reviews: including Watch Us Dance, Leila Slimani;  After That Night, Karin Slaughter, and Bellies by Nicola Dinan. 

May book reviews: including Yellowface by Rebecca F Kuang, Ghost Girl, Banana by Wiz Wharton, and The Twilight Garden by Sara Nisha Adams.


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1 comment

  1. Great review! I haven’t read any books by McEwan yet but this sounds like such an interesting read. I love that the focus is on the women! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts!


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