May 8, 2018
Ian McEwan reveals a rather absurd incident that only an author of his stature could experience
by Michael Barron
Are you really the foremost authority on a book you write? That’s the question bubbling up after a bemusing, if slightly awkward, interview with renowned author Ian McEwan.
In an interview with Jim White for the Daily Mail on the occasion of McEwan’s novella On Chesil Beach being adapted for screen, McEwan noted that he was “dubious” about having his work studied in school. Why? “‘I always feel a little dubious about people being made to read my books,’ he says, especially if it’s his youngest son, Greg, who, a couple of years back, was obliged to write an A-level essay on Enduring Love.”
Couple things here. Enduring Love, a novel involving a runaway hot air balloon, erotomania, and a scientific appendix, was adapted into a 2004 film of the same name. And for those who don’t know, the A-levels are like Britain’s SATs. Unlike the SATs, though, which chain you to a desk for three clocked Saturday morning hours to pour over a nationally standardized set of questions, the A-levels take place over the course of a week, a one day for each subject, and very much related to what you’ve been studying in your classes. So an English teacher could test you on a book that you’ve been reading over an entire term, which seems pretty chill, except if you are Ian McEwan’s son, and the novel you have been assigned for the term is your dad. Even McEwan felt sorry for the kid.
“Compelled to read his dad’s book — imagine. Poor guy. I confess I did give him a tutorial and told him what he should consider. I didn’t read his essay but it turned out his teacher disagreed fundamentally with what he said. I think he ended up with a C+.”
At least enough time has passed that the senior McEwan’s able to chuckle about it, noting “that story would be a lot better if I said he got a D…” On the other hand, according to McEwan in another interview with Lucy Cavendash for the Evening Standard, Greg is training to become a chef.
On Chesil Beach opens in the US on May 18. Watch the trailer here.
Michael Barron is an editor at Melville House.