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The Innocent: A Novel by Ian McEwan

The Innocent: A Novel (original 1990; edition 1998)

by Ian McEwan

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1,840383,771 (3.68)40
Title:The Innocent: A Novel
Authors:Ian McEwan
Info:Anchor (1998), Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:audiobook, fiction, Germany

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The Innocent by Ian McEwan (1990)


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English (32)  Spanish (3)  Norwegian (1)  Italian (1)  Dutch (1)  All (38)
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
A psychological thriller set in Cold War Berlin that offers intrigue and espionage. How much innocence can a spy sacrifice?
  mcmlsbookbutler | Oct 14, 2016 |
McEwan's protagonists are all flawed. Leonard is no different. As he falls in love for the first time in his 25-years, he gradually loses his innocence, shocking even himself at the extent of it. The story reaches its climax when Leonard and Maria accidentally killed Maria's ex-husband and to hide their crime, they cut up the body and stowed it in two luggage. Circumstances then led Leonard to stow the luggage in the secret tunnel and to prevent the crime from being exposed, he told the Russians about the tunnel. How harrowing. McEwan could have spared readers the gory details of the dismembering. ( )
  siok | Aug 13, 2016 |
Not bad as rollicking thrillers go, but not up to MacEwan's best. It's the story of an innocent abroad, in the tradition of HG Wells' suburban nobodies, who gets caught up in a, a surveillance project in Cold War Berlin and b, the backwash of a beautiful woman's collapsed marriage to an alcoholic. I felt overburdened with detail: the building of the tunnel replete with geekish details of electronics and drainage; the young man's discovery of sex (ok so he liked it, but i don't really need to know all about their pubic hair); disposal of the body (the killing is well done, makes a fine and credible climax, but dealing with the consequences is a bit like reading a blood-spattered IKEA flatpack instruction in reverse). Overwhelmed by all that I somehow missed how the two themes of spying and murder are brought together: the corpse somehow blows the cover on the tunnel, or perhaps it doesn't, that's already blown by George Blake who happens to live downstairs -eerrr whatever! ( )
  vguy | Mar 4, 2016 |
McEwan is a dense writer (I say this having read a grand total of two of his books, of course) so I feel as though I have to be in the right mood to get into one of his novels. Subtle buildup seems to be a theme of his. Which isn’t to say, of course, that he’s boring. I found both this novel and Atonement to be master works in demonstrating the power authors have to demonstrate tone through language and pacing. I get immense joy from reading how he can manipulate the to match the needs of the scene – from long, ponderous, lush phrasing to match when a character is ruminating; to fast, paranoid, rapid-fire phrasing when the situation is tense.

The story is of a young man, Leonard Marnham, working for the British secret service in Berlin following World War 2. He’s involved in the historical Operation Gold, an actual espionage attempt where the British and Americans cooperated to tap Soviet/East German phone lines. This was conducted by digging a tunnel under the border between Allied and Soviet sectors of the city (this predates the Wall). This isn’t, however, a spy novel in the customary sense. No gadgets, no novels, no state intrigue. The intrigue here is personal.

The tunnel imagery plays a key role in how the story unfolds. Marnham’s life is one of separation. By it’s nature, he has to keep his work life, technical assistance on Operation Gold, separate from his personal life, a budding relationship with a local Berliner. He, himself, even comments on how he feels like a different person when he’s working in the tunnel versus when he’s with Maria. The job, itself, is as if he’s gone through a tunnel and emerged into an entirely new life from what he knew in his youth in England. Segmentation, different sections of his life divided off that he travels to and from, emerging into each as a different person is a key theme to the novel. One that, as these things go, will not last when Leonard is forced to mix the parts of his life.

Given the title, the concept of innocence is explored and played with throughout the novel. Leonard is caught up in the machinations of the Allies versus the Soviets and even the Americans and the British, conflicts he doesn’t seem prepared to deal with. He’s also an innocent in love as his relationship with Maria shows. To use a cliche, she makes him a man. Finally, the two lovers are also innocent of the crime that they punish themselves for.

Finally, there’s the question of innocence of the people of Germany. While I don’t think the novel tries to brush over German civilian complicity in Nazi war crimes (which ended less than a decade prior to the start of the novel), it does look briefly at the nature of the city following the war and Berliner relations with the occupying Allied forces. The city is described as wrecked and ruined, areas of the city are described in terms of which of the Allied nations occupies it and how they treat the civilians, and Maria and her female friends are scarred by memories of the rapes committed by Soviet soldiers during the conquest. British and American characters act with a degree of overlordship over the city, and Maria is the only German character in the story, aside from a few minor characters. Even hapless Leonard marvels in his luxurious, massive apartment in a building occupied by other Allied national officials while Maria talks about the housing shortage for native Berliners and lives in an apartment threatened by squatters and with insufficient heat and no running water.

Genuinely, I enjoyed this book quite a bit. There is little I can say that I disliked. As mentioned above, it takes a little while to draw you in but that seems to be McEwan’s thing: novels that are a slow burn, but you’re engrossed before you realize it. Leonard was an absolutely charming character to be in the head of, if a little awkward and uncomfortable in some scenes. Maria was a mystery I enjoyed trying to piece together, especially given the novel’s espionage setting. The event that triggers the last third of the book and its attending chaos is made ever more delicious by the supporting cast: the various G-men and agents in the various organizations that Leonard works with. Berlin as a part-surreal no-man’s land and part-conquered paradise fits the story and its themes of innocence and compartmentalization well. It’s somewhat a shame that, according to McEwan, few people read the book.
  cyphyr | Feb 9, 2016 |
This author blows me away with his originality and writing style. The story takes place in Berlin in the early 50s as it is being divided before the Wall is constructed. Ordinary Leonard has been recruited/assigned to set up wire tapes under a Russian communications center. The story starts out pretty benign, but then Leonard meets Maria, a West Berliner at a club and soon gets caught up in something he seemingly has no control over. The last 100 or so pages are riveting. I enjoy Mr. McEwan's style because he writes so seamlessly and naturally for me. ( )
  Judy_Ryfinski | Jan 20, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
Ian McEwan has concentrated too much of his artistic energy on the surface of his story, has burnished it to such a high finish that not only the eye but the mind slides over and, ultimately, off the page.

Despite all that, I have to say that The Innocent is marvelously entertaining, filled with dark irony, with horror and regret.
added by jburlinson | editNew York Review of Books, John Banville (pay site) (Dec 6, 1990)
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It was Lieutenant Lofting who dominated the meeting. "Look here, Marnham. You've only just arrived, so there's no reason why you should know the situation. It's not the Germans or the Russians who are the problem here. It isn't even the French. It's the Americans. They don't know a thing. What's worse, they won't learn, they won't be told. It's just how they are."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385494335, Paperback)

Leonard Marnham is assigned to a British-American surveillance team in Cold War Berlin. His intelligence work—tunneling under a Russian communications center to tap the phone lines to Moscow—offers him a welcome opportunity to begin shedding his own unwanted innocence, even if he is only a bit player in a grim international comedy of errors. Leonard's relationship with Maria Eckdorf, an enigmatic and beautiful West Berliner, likewise promises to loosen the bonds of his ordinary life. But the promise turns to horror in the course of one terrible evening—a night when Leonard Marnham learns just how much of his innocence he's willing to shed.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:45 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

McEwan acknowledges his debt to the historian David Martin for the true story of the Berlin Tunnel or Operation Gold. To this truth, McEwan has wedded a fiction of tragedy and a love story of a sort.

(summary from another edition)

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