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Black Dogs by Ian McEwan
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Black Dogs (1992)

by Ian McEwan

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This had to sit on my palate a while after finishing it for me to really enjoy the taste. The surface level of the story is fairly pointless. A man and woman become husband and wife and then grow apart based on a mysterious encounter with a couple of black dogs. The book explores their ideologies, how the man believes politics can save the world and the woman believes only inward transformation can save the world. Along the way their's a very interesting exploration of the impact of World War II on Europe and an account of the dismantling of the Berlin Wall.

Looking deeper in the text, however, it became apparent to me how deep this story goes. The black dogs directly relate to the horror inflicted on Europe through World War II and the adherence to the belief that political ideologies can change the world for the better, even when the ideologies are responsible for horrible atrocities. There are reactions of withdrawal, both in the wife and in the Polish concentration camp which refuses to admit that Jews were killed there. There are reactions of a political nature that seem to say "if only we try again, we can get it right this time", as seen in the husband and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

A very interesting read for someone like me who grew up in America in the 70s and 80s at the end of the Cold War. Not McEwan's best work, but as an investigation of how the second half of the 20th century affected individuals and their relationships, it was a fascinating and worthy read. ( )
1 vote sbloom42 | May 21, 2014 |
Well written, as always, but I can't say I really grasped the point of this book. There are interesting glimpses of important times in modern history and relationships and differing worldviews, but all in all it is relatively abstract and sketchy. Using the completely oblique perspective of Jeremy makes the book a little too detached from the story, in my view. I also felt as if the really interesting story would have been that of Jeremy (and Sally), which is outlined in the preface, with Bernard and June's lives as an anecdotal sideline - rather than the other way around. ( )
1 vote evaberry | Jun 3, 2013 |
This is the 3rd Ian McEwan book I've read and I have to say I was disappointed. The others, Atonement and Saturday were both profound and so incredibly well written. I found Saturday to be initially very slow and disjoint, but it all comes together rapidly and definitely gives you an interesting perspective on relationships, integrity and life. Well I kept on waiting for that huge epiphany with Black Dogs, but it didn't happen. The book seemed to end abruptly (maybe it should have been 6 cds long?) and I was left without that 'aha' moment that his other stories gave me. ( )
1 vote jmoncton | Jun 3, 2013 |
http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/7587812/

I finished this book and I must say, that I do not really understand this book.
Okay, a man interviews his wife's parents and tries to find out what it was that kept them together, although they were living apart (in seperate countries even) for many years of their marriage.

I did not get the 'explanation' that was given of the title of this book, what it had to do with the rest of its contents. The reason why this was chosen to be the title / the center of the book.

Depsite all that it was a nice (quick) read. Interesting to read about the mindset of the two old people, how they reasoned when they were young before WW II, what the world was like then. ( )
1 vote BoekenTrol71 | Mar 31, 2013 |
I generally enjoy reading Ian McEwan's books, and I normally I find him a very engaging writer. However, this book left me flat, It was disjointed and went nowhere very interesting. There were no special revelations about character, plot, or ideas. Fortunately it was short, so I went ahead and read the whole thing. ( )
  JolleyG | Nov 29, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
An uneasy mixture of mystery, contemporary history, and novel of ideas.
added by jburlinson | editNew York Review of Books, Kerry Fried (pay site) (Jan 14, 1993)
 
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Epigraph
In these times I don't, in a manner of speaking, know what I want; perhaps I don't want what I know and want what I don't know.
-Marsilio Ficino, letter to Giovanni Cavalcanti, c. 1475
Dedication
To Jon Cook,
who saw them too.
First words
Ever since I lost mine in a road accident when I was eight, I have had my eye on other people's parents.
Quotations
It is photography itself that creates the illusion of innocence. Its ironies of frozen narrative lend to its subjects an apparent unawareness that they will change or die. It is the future they are innocent of. Fifty years on we look at them with the godly knowledge of how they turned out after all--who they married, the date of their death--with no thought for who will one day be holding photographs of us.
"The truth is we love each other, we've never stopped, we're obsessed. And we failed to do a thing with it. We couldn't make a life. We couldn't give up the love, but we wouldn't bend to its power. . . . Whenever I'm complaining about some latest social breakdown in the newspapers, I have to remind myself--why should I expect millions of strangers with conflicting interests to get along when I couldn't make a simple society with the father of my children, the man I've loved. . . ?
[H]e was struck by the recently concluded war not as a historical, geopolitical fact but as a multiplicity, a near infinity of private sorrows. . . .
"The work we have to do is with ourselves if we're ever going to be at peace with each other."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385494327, Paperback)

Set in late 1980s Europe at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Black Dogs is the intimate story of the crumbling of a marriage, as witnessed by an outsider. Jeremy is the son-in-law of Bernard and June Tremaine, whose union and estrangement began almost simultaneously. Seeking to comprehend how their deep love could be defeated by ideological differences Bernard and June cannot reconcile, Jeremy undertakes writing June's memoirs, only to be led back again and again to one terrifying encouner forty years earlier--a moment that, for June, was as devastating and irreversible in its consequences as the changes sweeping Europe in Jeremy's own time. In a finely crafted, compelling examination of evil and grace, Ian McEwan weaves the sinister reality of civiliation's darkest moods--its black dogs--with the tensions that both create love and destroy it.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:38:01 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Black Dogs is built around a brilliant short story, a mesmerically slow-motion encounter with two terrifying dogs by an English couple who are honeymooning just after the war in a French mountain village.

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