This is a brilliant and woefully underrated book. It's only the third book I have read by McEwan, but I still strongly suspect that it is his masterpiece. I expected that to be |Atonement which is certainly very good, but this book is better.
It is a novel that is in some sense about the conflict between literature and science, and which takes science's side. That, of course from a master novelist, is not a simple minded siding, but it is a complex and beautiful one The book is about the difference between appearance and reality and in particularly, so about how it is possible to get to the truth. It is also about betrayal, madness and of course love.
I think that it is right on the money about a lot of things It might seem that the actions of the police and the main character's wife are unbelievable in their willful ignorance, but I think that they are right on the money. His wife a Keats scholar completely fails to live up to the ideals that she espouses, killing off their love in the process. I think that in part this is an assault on the literary establishment, which is seen as hypocritical and willfully blind. I don't want to oversell this interpretation, however, because like all McEwan's works, the story is full of ambiguities.
I think it is a book about the reaction to madness and not to madness, itself. It is also a book, that thoroughly explores the nature of love, in a at times very cynical way. Love is something that is endured, more than it is something that lasts.
Anything, that I might say about this book would be inadequate. The characters are brilliant, and their voices brilliant realized. It is a genuinely revolutionary book. It also walks a precipice and I was unsure where it was going and what exactly was meant to be real at times. It also, unsurprisingly, has brilliantly written scenes and McEwan plays with the phenomenological aspects of things as he always does.
Like all of McEwan's works it is also obsessed with the tiny coincidences and happenstances that drive human lives off in unexpected directions. McEwan is obsessed with the contingency of life.
It is the second best book I have ever read by a currently living author. Its brilliant and clever, the prose is artful, and most of all it is not designed to appeal either to the general public or to the literati. McEwan is that rarest of things now a days, an author who is completely committed to a vision uniquely his own.