Ian McEwan Debuts Novel in New York City

British novelist Ian McEwan appeared before a large and appreciative group of students and literary New Yorkers at Hunter College on the Upper East Side this evening. He read an amusing and touching selection from his upcoming novel, On Chesil Beach, which will be published in the U.K. in April 2007 and in the U.S.A. two months later.

I have been a McEwan fan since reading his Atonement, but I had no idea how popular he was until I found myself at the very back of a crowded room where at least 150 New Yorkers, mostly eclectically-dressed Hunter College students, sat and listened attentively to the author’s every word.

He picked a great passage for this crowd: a sex scene in separate male and female voices featuring a British couple on their wedding night. It’s 1962 and both Edward and Florence are nervous virgins. They struggle to get their clothes off, and then finally reach a small sensual epiphany together, even if it’s not exactly sex. McEwan first presents her side of the story, then his. Their private metaphors cross and complement each other: as they caress each other she hears Mozart quartets, while he has a vision of farming equipment.

The audience loved the piece, and I enjoyed it too. McEwan answered a few questions after the reading, and mentioned that the nuclear crisis of October 1962 was an underlying theme in the sex scene with Florence and Edward. He also spoke of Atonement‘s upcoming film interpretation, which will star Keira Knightley and James McAvoy. He mentioned that filming was finished, and said that he’d found his participation difficult because the medium of film does not capture the interior worlds of its characters as easily as fiction.

This was the first time I’d seen McEwan in person, and he made a very good impression on me. His demeanor is polite, detached and rather coolly droll, as when he answered a student’s long, convoluted question about the process of writing about sex in literary fiction with a single sentence: “Well, there are many positions to take”. That was McEwan’s whole answer, and a pretty clever one at that.

2 Responses

  1. Writing SexLike crawling
    Writing Sex

    Like crawling through a minefield. Here, we bring every flaw we have with us to “literature.” Writing sex. If you write about sex between men, you must be gay. If you write about sex between Aboriginals, you must be from Australia. The reader is titillated because he thinks (sadly he is wrong again) he sneaks a peek into the writer’s mind which is where most writers have sex. It’s a voyeurism of some exploitation. The writer gets to make his point (whatever it might be) and the reader thinks he saw something possibly exciting. Personally, I like writing sex scenes with distastefully violent sadomasochistic scenes of utter drug-induced depravity where my characters surrender themselves to the darkness of hopelessness. Why. Simple. Trust me. It has nothing to do with how I live my life. For me, it symbolizes the way life really is. The sex scene is a metaphor. Some of us dominate. Some of us are submissive. This theatrical stage of blood can go well beyond the limitations of “just sex.” I suppose writing about intimacy is fine. But I just don’t believe in it. It’s a romance. A mythology. Intimacy does not exist. You fuck and you kill. Or you are fucked and you will be killed. Why write just sex when you can bring the world into your bed. It’s true. I AM from Australia. Beware of what you write. Minefields are fertile ground for ghosts. It will return to haunt you.

  2. The medium”He mentioned that
    The medium

    “He mentioned that filming was finished, and said that he’d found his participation difficult because the medium of film does not capture the interior worlds of its characters as easily as fiction.”

    That’s right. It requires more participation from the audience.

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